I recently received some constructive feedback about Eagle Times reporter Glynis Hart’s article titled “Racial Healing Topic of MLK Day Event” (Jan. 22). I’m an active member of the Racial Healing Working Group (RHWG) who sponsored the event on MLK Day. I enjoy Ms. Hart’s writing, though the feedback I received about the article was from the perspective of a friend who identifies as a person of color (POC) for whom the article was difficult for several reasons. Members of the RHWG agreed with some of these observations and called themselves out. To make this commentary even more interesting, I had a very different perspective than either Ms. Hart or my friend who was disturbed by the article.
Ms. Hart highlighted Dr. McGoodwin’s message and award in her ET article, with which I felt comfortable. I especially liked the focus of Dr. McGoodwin’s story: before he began delving into understanding systemic racism and white supremacy, he would have thought the horrific incident in August 2017, when an 8-year-old biracial child was hung by the neck in a Claremont resident’s backyard, was an act of bullying. He now understands the act as an example of the systemic racism that pervades our relationships and institutions. This is an important take-away that illustrates the importance of whites educating ourselves to the on-going threat of racism, whether intentional or not, and applying that knowledge to make the necessary changes to end systemic racism. Dr. McGoodwin also said that when he spoke with the SAU 6 administration about addressing racism in the schools, there was push back due to the enormity of what is asked of administration and teachers in our school system. Dr. McGoodwin said that before he delved into understanding systemic racism, he would have said the same thing 18 months earlier.
My friend questioned why Dr. McGoodwin got an award for being a white guy who learned something about racism when they, my friend, lives the scourge of racism every day? Their experience, living racism, every day, creates an urgency and righteous indignation with white people giving white people awards for developing awareness about something they have been the victim of daily for all their lives. This is a profoundly different perspective, and one that brings home the importance of whites looking carefully at how racism is experienced by non-whites and the consequences of that for all of us.
As members of the RHWG, we strive to move forward with what we think is going to help end the pervasive scourge of racism. My friend’s sobering observation of the Racial Justice Champion award given to Dr. McGoodwin saddened me as I reflected on their experience. Group members continue to hear about racist hate speech targeting our students of color by their classmates on a regular basis. I have addressed the SAU 6 School Board and City Council at their past two joint meetings with the request that the criteria of the search committee for our next Superintendent of Schools include, in addition to being accomplished in his or her profession in shepherding our district to meet the educational needs of all our children, that he or she have the experience, skills, and commitment to address systemic racism within the school system. This is done by creating effective policies and practices in our schools to address these basic needs for all our children. We, as a community, need to raise the bar of justice and the welfare of all our children and adolescents to ask this of our next superintendent of schools.
One of the blessings of this friend’s participation is hearing about their experience that helps the RHWG to recommit to our mission of educating those who are unaware of how white supremacy and systemic racism infect our relationships and community and create a community dialogue that results in positive action that promote inclusion, equity, and justice for all. If systemic racism is to be overcome in our communities, we need people of color and parents of children of color to partner with us to help drive the necessary changes. Whites don’t know what whites don’t know about the lived experience of racism. It’s not just about protecting children of color, white children need to be educated about racial justice to make them courageous allies of their friends of color, too. We have also heard of youth who take on this challenge of protectively stepping up for their friends of color. This needs to be a norm in our school districts, not the exception. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and wherever there is injustice, there is despair deep in the souls of many. Let us make our communities safe for all our children and those who live in “the other America.”
Our RHWG is now transitioning to become more focused and informed through our growing connections to POC in our community. Please join us in moving forward with this commitment to deepen our understanding and connection to one another with the goal of racial justice. The RHWG looks forward to increasing our efficacy in addressing racism.
Please take the opportunity to see the youtube video, “The Other America,” a poignant example of the human misery created by racism in America that still exists. It is a magnificent example of Dr. King’s later ministry before he was murdered for his work as a leader in the civil rights movement. For more information about our upcoming meetings and events, please contact us through email@example.com.
Rebecca MacKenzie is a member of the Racial Healing Working Group of Claremont.