Focus on Equity
Videos of a white woman calling police in Central Park, of police officers killing a black man in Minneapolis, of armed white protestors storming state capitols, of a black jogger being slain, and audio of a white presidential candidate joking about whether black voters who support his opponent are black enough, are but a few vignettes of all the many and frequent ways (some vicious, some deadly) that chronic, insidious and widespread racism causes unimaginable pain and suffering. These are not isolated incidents. They are only the ones in recent days that were recorded. Every one of them deepens old wounds.
From the moment 401 years ago when whites in America began to build their futures, their freedoms and their wealth through the labor of enslaved people, a deal with the devil was sealed. You can’t believe that it is both self-evident that all people are created equal and that one person can buy and sell another.
The vestiges of slavery, of Jim Crow and segregation shape every aspect of American life today. American Exceptionalism will always be but a myth until we have found a way to atone for our nation’s original sin.
Clark County spent 2019 engaged in a community-wide learning journey. We learned together how deeply racism is embedded in nearly every system of American life. Let us take action to dismantle the racism embedded in our systems and not just put angry or sad faces on the Facebook posts we read.
Here are some places to start (note #1: list adapted from Corinne Shutack, 8/13/17 and Karen Geiger 5/27/20) (note #2: POC = people of color):
- Find out if your police department currently outfits all on-duty police officers with a body-worn camera and requires that the body-worn camera be turned on immediately when officers respond to a police call. If they don’t, write to your city or town government representative and police chief to advocate for it. The racial make-up of your town doesn’t matter — This needs to be standard everywhere. Multiply your voice by soliciting others to advocate as well, writing on social media about it, writing op-eds, etc.
- Find out if your town currently employs evidence-based police de-escalation trainings. The racial make-up of your town doesn’t matter — This needs to be standard everywhere. Write to your city or town government representative and police chief and advocate for it. Multiply your voice by soliciting others to advocate as well, writing on social media about it, writing op-eds, etc.
- If you or a friend is an educator, buy said friend books that feature POC as protagonists and heroes, no matter the racial make-up of the class. A few good lists are here, here, here, and here. And/or purchase educational toys that feature POC, such as finger puppets, Black History Flashcards, etc. for their classroom. Use these items year-round, not just in February. The racial make-up of students doesn’t matter — kids of every race need to know American history and be exposed to people from different races, religions, and countries. If the friend is interested, buy them for your pal’s classroom. Don’t be shy to ask Facebook friends that you haven’t actually talked to in ten years.
- If you or a friend or family member is an educator, watch or share this video of Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking about his experience as a black student telling people he wanted to be a scientist and astrophysicist. Tyson’s experience reminds me of a black friend whose high school teacher tried to dissuade her from taking AP classes, because, with the best of intentions, they thought the AP classes would be “too much” for her. Be an educator who supports and encourages, not one who dissuades. Talk to educators you know about being educators who support and encourage, not educators who dissuade.
- Work on ensuring that black educators are hired where black children are being taught. If you want to know more about why and how this makes a difference for black children, check out this episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast. There are some really good nuggets in there about how schools can support the achievement of black students — from ensuring black students aren’t closed out of gifted programs by using test results instead of white teachers’ recommendations to the influence that having a black teacher has on a black student’s education to the importance to fostering a school ethos wherein black students think, “This school is here for me.”
- Many companies have recruiting channels that are predominantly white. Work with your HR department to recruit Americans who are descendants of enslaved Africans. Recruiting from HBCUs is a good start. Work to put descendants of enslaved Africans already hired under supportive managers.
- Donate to anti-white supremacy work and get involved with local groups such as Better Together Winchester.
- Support black businesses. Find them on WeBuyBlack, The Black Wallet, and Official Black Wall Street.
- Bank black. It doesn’t have to be all of your checking or savings. Opening up an account with some money is better than no account at all. You can use the link from #8 (type “banking” in the Category field) or this site to find a bank.
- Don’t buy from companies that use prison labor. Find a good list here.
- Read up about mandatory minimum sentences and watch videos about this on Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM’s) website. FAMM’s website includes work being done at the federal level and state level. Call or write to your state legislators and governor about reducing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes.
- Call or write to your state legislators and governor to support state-wide criminal justice reform including reducing mandatory minimum sentences, reducing sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, passing “safety valve” law to allow judges to depart below a mandatory minimum sentence under certain conditions, passing alternatives to incarceration, etc. Study after study shows that racism fuels racial disparities in imprisonment, and most of the U.S. prison population at the state and local level.
- Call or write to state legislators to require racial impact statements be required for all criminal justice bills. Most states already require fiscal and environmental impact statements for certain legislation. Racial impact statements evaluate if a bill may create or exacerbate racial disparities should the bill become law. Check out the status of your state’s legislation surrounding these statements here.
- Join or start a Daughters of Abraham book club in your Church, mosque, or synagogue.
- Research your local prosecutors/county attorneys. Prosecutors have a lot of power to give fair sentences or Draconian ones, influence a judge’s decision to set bail or not, etc.
- Call or write to state legislators, federal legislators, and your governor to end solitary confinement longer than 15 days. It is considered torture by the UN, and it is used more frequently on black and Hispanic prisoners. For more information on solitary, two good overviews can be found here and here.
- Watch 13th. Better yet, get a group of friends together and watch.
- Watch The House I Live In.
- Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article, The Case for Reparation. The U.S. has already participated in reparations four times.
- Read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Better yet, get a group of friends together to read it like a book club would — read, then discuss.
- Read Caught by Marie Gottschalk. Better yet, get a group of friends together to read it like a book club would — read, then discuss.
- Read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Yep, get a group of friends together to read it like a book club would — read, then discuss.
- Read A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
- Read Orange is the New Black. The information the author shares about the ease with which one can be charged with “conspiracy” to sell drugs, the damage done from long sentences that don’t fit the crime due to mandatory minimum sentencing, the ever-present threat of solitary confinement at a Correction Officer’s whim, and other specific harmful practices in the prison system are well done. Get a group of friends together to read it like a book club would — read, then discuss.
- Read The Color of Law. Get your friends on board reading it, too.
- Especially if you or a friend is an educator, read or share bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress.
- Read Nikole Hannah-Jones’ The 1619 Project.
- Buy books, choose TV shows and movies, and opt for toys for your kids, nieces, nephews, etc., that show people from different races, religions, countries and that teach real American history. A few ideas: the books, toys, and flashcards from #3.
- Listen without ego and defensiveness to people of color. Truly listen. Don’t scroll past articles written by people of color — Read them.
- Don’t be silent about that racist joke. Silence is support.
- Find out how slavery, the Civil War, and the Jim Crow era are being taught in your local school. Advocate that history is taught correctly and certain parts are not skipped over or barely mentioned. Advocate that many voices be used in the study of history. Is the school teaching about post-Civil War convict leasing, the parent to our current mass incarceration system? Talking about slavery alone, is your school showing images such as Gordon’s scourged back, a slave ship hold, and an enslaved nurse holding her young master? Are explorers, scientists, politicians, etc., who are POC discussed? Are male and female authors who are POC on reading lists? Are Japanese internment camps being discussed? Is history explained correctly in history books? There are a lot of great resources out there with a little Googling, like PBS’s resources for teaching slavery, this POC Online Classroom blog, Teaching for Change, and The National Association for Multicultural Education.
- Arrange for cultural exchanges and cultural ambassadors in your local school’s classrooms. The International Classroom program at UPenn and People to People International are options. The Dept. of Education has a good list. Cultural exchanges via the interwebs are very valuable. Actual human interaction between people from different races, religions, and countries (i.e., cultural ambassadors) and students in the physical classroom is ideal.
- Seek out a diverse group of friends for your kids.
- Seek out a diverse group of friends for you. Practice real friendship and intimacy by listening when POC talk about their experiences and their perspectives. They’re speaking about their pain.
- Watch these videos to hear first-hand accounts of what our black brothers and sisters live. Then read every day people’s experiences through the hashtag #realizediwasblack. Share with others.
- Recognize that in the same way saying “slavery is a necessary evil” (Thomas Jefferson’s words) was acceptable by many in 1820, the same way saying “separate but equal” was acceptable by many in 1940, choosing to not condemn white nationalism, the fact that black people are 2.7 times as likely to be killed by police than white people, the fact that unarmed black Americans are roughly five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by a police officer, that the fact the black imprisonment rate for drug offenses is about 5.8 times higher than it is for whites, etc., are acts of overt racism in 2020.
- Read Van Jones’ short and to-the-point article about the racial biases of reporters. More examples are here. Check out this article discussing how media coverage of the opioid epidemic — which largely affects suburban and rural whites — portrays it as an outside threat and focuses on treatment and recovery, while stories of heroin in the 1970s, crack-cocaine in the 1980s, and other drug problems that impact urban people of color today have focused on the drug user’s morality. Keep an eye out for such biases and use social media and direct communication to the media outlet to call them out when they occur.
- Know our American history. Watch Roots, 12 Years a Slave, Mississippi Burning, and Selma, to name a few.
- Know what indigenous land you’re living on by looking that this map and research the groups that occupied that land before you did.
- When people say that Black Lives Matter is a violent/terrorist group, explain to them that there are fringe groups that are being misrepresented as part of BLM. If white people don’t want to be lumped in with the KKK, they can’t lump violent protesters in with BLM.
- When people ask, “Why aren’t you talking about ‘black-on-black crime’?” and other myths about BLM, let Francesca Ramsey help you with those talking points
- Be honest about our history. One genocide, another genocide, then apartheid. It sucks, but it’s true. We’ll never be free from our history unless we’re honest about it. Denial is our pathology, but the truth will set us free.
- Get your city/town, company, place or worship, etc. to divest from private prisons and detention centers. Since the start of a national prison divestment campaign, cities like New York and Cincinnati, higher ed institutions, churches, and corporations have divested.
- Write to your state legislators to end cash bail. It means that a someone who is legally innocent is put in jail because they can’t afford bail. It means that a defendant can be released pre-trial because of their wealth, not how much of a flight risk they are. It puts more people in detention (which taxpayers pay for) and affects a defendants’ ability to maintain employment, access mental and physical healthcare, and be in communication with their family and friends, etc. Housing the approximately 500,000 people in jail in the US awaiting trial who cannot afford bail costs US taxpayers $9 billion a year.
- Support organized efforts to end of cash bail by donating to The Bail Project. Bail out a black mother through The National Bail Out.
- Add attend town halls, candidate meet-and-greets, etc. for political candidates and ask about ending mass incarceration, reducing mandatory minimum sentences, reducing or ending solitary confinement, ending cash bail, divesting from private prisons, etc.
- A wise former teacher once said, “The question isn’t: Was the act racist or not? The question is: How much racism was in play?” Does it matter if it was 3% of the motivation or 30% or 95%? Interrogate the question “How much racism was in play?” as you think about an incident. Share this idea with the people in your life when they ask, “Was that racist?”
- Talk to your family about the outrage you post on Facebook or Twitter and make antiracism a family value in your family.