Op/Ed: Community Board 3’s Race Debate
Editor’s note: The following opinion piece was submitted by K Webster, a new member of Community Board 3 and a longtime community activist. The Lo-Down accepts unsolicited op/ed articles. Submissions should be emailed to: email@example.com.
I had a very different take on Community Board 3’s Wednesday’s full board meeting than what I’ve been reading elsewhere.
One of the great things about this board is that there is a spectrum of diversity, and with that, the real possibility and momentum for movement on racism and other crucial issues.
The project of eliminating any possible vestiges of racism in our functioning as a board, was unanimously concurred with by all present board members and the chair. There is disagreement about how that best happens, but the desired inclusion of more racial diversity (for those of African, Latina/o and – I assume- Indigenous heritages) in the leadership of committees (the Board Vice Chair is African Heritage and the Secretary is Latina, I believe) is heartily endorsed. This Chair, who is of Chinese Heritage, has stated fervently that that is her daily work. I believe her.
What we insist upon for our future is our task at hand. Racism, and racism against African Heritage people in particular, has been brutal and continues to be so. We are far from clearing out this scourge from our lives and institutions. Racism targets those of Asian Heritage, Latina/o Heritage and Indigenous Heritage differently, but no less brutally. We need to know these histories in order to move forward. We need to listen to each other’s particular histories to build a more solid base for our collective movement on ending racism. Racism has its claws in each of our minds. To different affect depending on which end of it you get.
Racism is the one-way, institutionalized mistreatment of people of color. White people are set up to be the agents of racism towards African Heritage, Asian, Indigenous and Latina/o people. We were bequeathed this role at birth. We can choose what we do with that fact, but we can’t squirm out of it. Prejudice, can be acted out by everyone, towards everyone, of any “race”. And it hurts. But it’s really different when entire institutions (prison industry, schools, military, etc.) are set up to oppress and destroy whole peoples. Whites have our work to do. We get the “benefits” of racism (while being required to give up our integrity and connection to most of the planet’s humans). People of color have their work to do. The misinformation about each other and self has also been installed and has to be worked out or it will confuse and undermine any attempts to eradicate this scourge.
Policy debates, including rigorous critiques of current practices, are vital to a group’s movement. Personal attacks on the key leader of a community organization are counterproductive, and I believe, damaging to the functioning of the group itself. No one person is responsible racism nor can one person end it (though all of us need to take charge of own decision to end it). Systemic oppression doesn’t end that way. Trying to find “the” racist is an attempt by the rest of us to “get off the hook” for our own responsibility to dismantle it.
In the broader context, every one of us carries hurtful messages that are damaging, hurtful and incorrect about other groups. We carry harmful and destructive misinformation about our own groups. That’s how oppressive societies work. It insures that everyone is kept at each other’s throats and everyone is filled with just enough self-hatred so they don’t dare lift their head up in order to have a real fight to end oppression. Pick any oppression: Sexism, racism, able-bodyism, Gay oppression, elder oppression, the oppression of young people (where we all first learn to accept disrespect), anti-Jewish oppression, anti-Muslim oppression, class oppression, etc. The list is as endless as there are differences to be exploited by a society that works best if we are kept targeting one another. It leaves us vulnerable to manipulation by the powers that be – against our own true self-interest.
All oppression is an insult to our common humanity, but we have the ability to fight it and that is the interesting and necessary task.