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WILL WE MOVE THE NEEDLE TOWARD JUSTICE?

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

We have been here before.

I’m hoping this time will be different.

I’m hoping this time we can be honest.

I’m hoping this time we can confront the ugliness of who we are as a nation.

I’m hoping this time America is willing to acknowledge the lies it tells itself about race.

I’m hoping this time the cries of the oppressed will be heard.

I’m hoping this time we can get rid of the idea that white lives matter more than others.

I’m hoping this time we will embody and practice justice.

I’m hoping this time America will change.

Countless people have risked everything to persuade our country to live up to its stated ideals. They marched. They were surveilled by the government. They were beaten with batons and bullwhips. They were tear-gassed. They were blasted with fire hoses. They were attacked by dogs. They were lynched. They were murdered.

We have been here before.

If we fail this time, what will history say about us?

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Unapologetically Black

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Where do we go from here?

I’ve heard a lot of people asking that question lately.

Interestingly enough, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. posed that same question in 1967 (during the annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference). He suggested that to answer the question, we must first HONESTLY recognize where we are.

King said: “When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was sixty percent of a person. Today, another curious formula seems to declare he is fifty percent of a person. Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites.

“Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard housing. And Negroes have half the income of whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share: There are twice as many unemployed; the rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites; and there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population.  In other spheres, the figures are equally alarming. In elementary schools, Negroes lag one to three years behind whites, and their segregated schools receive substantially less money per student than the white schools. One-twentieth as many Negroes as whites attend college. Of employed Negroes, seventy-five percent hold menial jobs. This is where we are.”

To all of my well-meaning white brothers and sisters who are asking the question today – eager to move to “action steps” in a quest to end racism, I have a question for you: Do you know where we are? If not, I suggest that you find out before moving to treat the symptoms rather than working to root out the disease, which is racism.

To all of my Black and Brown brothers and sisters, I suggest that we follow King’s advice: “First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amid a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values.”

He warned, however, that arousing human worth within a “people that have been taught for so many centuries that they are nobody is not easy.” He stressed how even semantics/language have perpetuated a false sense of inferiority in Black and Brown children while perpetuating a false sense of superiority in white children.

“In Roget’s Thesaurus there are some 120 synonyms for blackness and at least sixty of them are offensive, such words as blot, soot, grim, devil, and foul. And there are some 134 synonyms for whiteness and all are favorable, expressed in such words as purity, cleanliness, chastity, and innocence. A white lie is better than a black lie.  The most degenerate member of a family is the “black sheep”, he said.

King urged us to affirm our own self-worth, to reach down to the inner depths of our own being and sign our own emancipation proclamation, telling the world that we are human beings with dignity and honor.

I signed my own emancipation proclamation decades ago; and I will not apologize for my truth: that I am Black, that I am proud (not arrogant), that I am valuable, that I have a rich and noble history, that Black is beautiful, that Black men are not a threat, that Black Lives Matter.

And I will not apologize for hesitating to applaud the institutions, corporations, organizations, and individuals who insist on treating the symptoms of racism while white supremacy continues to drive the operating system in America.

“… power without love is reckless and abusive, and  love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.  And this is what we must see as we move on.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Know Better, Do Better

Blog by Associate Michelle Gray

Last week, in a long overdue move, Quaker Oats announced it is doing away with its Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup brand, saying that “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.”

A new name and packaging will debut later this year.

You are familiar with Aunt Jemima, of course: a Black woman, who originally was dressed as a minstrel character. She then appeared with a “mammy” kerchief, which had been removed in recent years because of racial stereotyping that dated to the days of slavery.

The current logo features a smiling black woman. Nevertheless, the racist origin remains.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the internet to react to Quaker’s news. And it was what I’d come to expect with anything involving race: those who applauded the move and those who thought their world was ending.

One gentleman (a white man) claimed the change ruined childhood memories of pancakes in his grandma’s kitchen. Ah, memories, like the heritage of the South we “erase” by removing Confederate statues; a separate but similar issue.

His comment brought to mind the time when I was a reporter and Warren City Schools (Ohio) had to merge its two high schools. Committees made up of administrators, students and citizens were formed. A building was chosen and its name retained, but the mascot and colors of the other school remained. The students took the change in stride, but the adults!

I took a phone call from a woman who was in tears, saying her memories were ruined. Yeesh!  She wasn’t the first to call and I finally decided to speak up: “Memories are kept in our hearts and minds, not in bricks and mortar. Your memories are yours to keep, regardless of what happens now.” She hung up on me, but I wasn’t sorry for what I had said.

This remains true for pancakes and syrup. You can keep your fond memories of grandma’s kitchen while recognizing the racist origins of a logo on a package.

Another (white) woman lamented: “This is ridiculous. Who’s next? Charlie Tuna?” As if anthropomorphizing a fish somehow equates to enslaving humans. But the answer to her question is Mars, Inc., which owns Uncle Ben’s. Just hours after the Quaker announcement, Mars said it would rethink the logo of its rice products.

My own reaction was “about time. I can’t imagine why it took them so long.” But I don’t want to commend myself, as I have moved through this world with relative ease as a white woman and I am embarrassed at how long it has taken me to be “woke.” And sometimes I wonder if I am at that.

I remember in 2013 watching “Fruitvale Station” and really realizing, for the first time, that I have never, ever had to fear for my life at the hands of a police officer. And sadly, that is something my black brothers and sisters deal with daily. It was a sad and sobering realization.

I came across this on the internet by Instagram user @shes_mightymighty: “No matter how open-minded, socially conscious, anti-racist I think I am, I still have old, learned hidden biases that I need to examine. It is my responsibility to check myself daily for my stereotypes, prejudice, and ultimately, discrimination.”

I posted it to my page as a reminder. And I tell myself to remember, and follow, what my hero Maya Angelou said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Dear White People: DO YOUR PART!

Blog by Associate Rosie Blackburn

The events of 2020 have had me on perhaps the biggest rollercoaster ride of my life.

I started the year — literally on January 1, 2020 — in the hospital unable to walk.  After treatment and rehab, I fully recovered.  I am convinced it was the many, many prayers of my family, friends and my Dominican community that greatly contributed to that recovery.  I truly felt the arms of God holding me.

I was finally able to get out a bit and along came COVID-19.  I have felt very sad over the loss of life. I have felt afraid.  I have felt grateful that I am well and have all that I need. And I have felt anger at lack of leadership.

In the midst of the global pandemic, we have lost black lives to police brutality and now face the ugly truth of the deep-rooted racism in our country.   We have known it. We have denied it. And we have “whitewashed” it with lies.

We now have another opportunity to finally begin to be truthful, to own it, to own our part in it, to educate ourselves and to make the changes needed to truly be one human race.

We white people need to be leading this fight, not the black people.  Black people have to fight every day — EVERY DAY — for their survival.  We do not need to look to them to also educate us, to show us the way, to be the front line.

We set up these systems and found many ways to keep them in tact for 400 years to suppress BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color); and we must be the force that dismantles them.  It will take very hard work and perseverance.

What can we do, we ask?  I don’t have all the answers, but I have some thoughts and suggestions.  We have to begin.  We will stumble. We will fall. We will mess up. But we must keep going.   Some things we can do:

Read and educate ourselves.  White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo is a good beginning.  DiAngelo is a white woman and she is very clear in explaining white privilege.  I Am Still Here by Austin Brown Channing is a great read.  Channing is a black woman and illustrates how whiteness dominates our country.   There are many great books out there – Google it!

Quit trying to make Black people white!  Quit assuming we know how they feel, we don’t!  We can’t!  Quit thinking the white way is better, it isn’t!

Take a long hard look at your racism — a long look, an honest look.  Look every day.  You don’t have to share it with anyone but you do have to be willing to sit with yourself and hold yourself accountable.

Find ways to have the hard conversations with family, friends, and neighbors who make racial comments.  It has to stop!  We can be part of that change.  We have to speak up every time.

Pray, pray, pray.   God for me is that divine energy that connects us all, that’s all of us, and the expression of God is the many ways we love.  Prayer is the gift of love – It brings us into relationship with God and who/what we are praying for.  Peace is a relationship that acknowledges differences and still finds a way to stay in relationship and share in the love of God.  That divine energy connects our hearts, all our hearts, and provides us the energy to love and stay connected.

While I find myself experiencing deep sorrow every day with the staggering number of deaths from COVID-19, I have a deeper sorrow over humans killing each other. But, I also have hope.  Hope in our ability to be humble and honest and in our great desire to do better now that we know better.  It is the work of the rest of our lives.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

An Exercise in Self-Reflection

Let this sink in:

“What we saw on that video was torture. What we saw on that video was inhumane. What we saw on that video was evil. We cannot cooperate with evil. We cannot cooperate with inhumanity. We cannot cooperate with torture. We must seek justice.”

Attorney Benjamin L. Crump

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Now, take a look in the mirror and answer the following questions:

  • Are you a seeker of justice?
  • How do you show justice to others?
  • Do you (unwittingly or intentionally) fail to do justice?
  • Are there groups of people who you think should have no rights or limited rights?
  • Do Black lives (really) matter to you?
  • Are there areas of your life in which you are indifferent to justice?
  • What are you prepared to do to act justly?
  • Again: Are you a seeker of justice?
Posted in Associate Blog, News