Racial Representation Matters

We had a local election for a seat on the school board a couple of nights ago. Two women were running. Both were equally qualified. One was white and the other one was not. Guess who won?

Students of color make up 57% of the student population in Madison, WI – but we keep electing the white candidates. There is an urgent need on the school board for racial representation. Period. We need it, the youth need it.

“Oh, so you’re making this about race?”

Um, yes, this is about race. Just like so many of the fights people are currently fighting are about gender.

It’s frustrating that there is significant lack of women in power, right? And there is a huge push for more women to run for office, right? Why? Because you know…YOU KNOW…that a man that listens well to the needs, voices and concerns of women is still a man.

Of course not every woman is going to represent me in the way I want to be represented. And there are men in office that I would trust to represent me better than some women, but let’s get real, if there is a qualified man and an equally qualified woman running, you bet I’m voting for the woman. Because there are plenty of men in power already. PLENTY.

“Yes, but the male candidate is a good listener and he understands what the issues are for females. And he has more experience.”

Ummm, no. Women don’t need to have specific listening sessions to understand the needs, voices and concerns of other women, they live it, know it and wake up every day representing.

“That is a broad stroke. Not all women are the same.” Yes, yes, I know, we covered that above. Yet, we still want more women in positions of power because half the population happens to be female, and well, we rock pretty hard!

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this local election. I’m pissed, I’m frustrated and, I’m angry. Students of color make up 57% of the student population and there has only been one Black Woman on the board…ever.

Yes, this is about race for me today, folks. I hear our community asking people of color to run for office. And then they do. And then white people run against them. There was an opportunity and we dropped the ball again. Madison buys into equity, so it says, but for some reason when it comes time to show how valuable equity really is, things just don’t work out. But, thank you! Thank you so much for a running a great campaign! Please run again!

If Black Lives Matter…if we really believe that Black Lives Matter…why aren’t we giving power to those lives?

Yes, this is about race for me today, folks. I am a white woman. I don’t know what it is like for students of color. I understand the racial disparities. I hear the stories. I see students unfairly treated and failing in a system that is not supporting their success in all the ways it could. But I will never really KNOW. I will never have the same perspective as a person of color. I will never have the lived experiences. It doesn’t matter if I love, am friends with, or even live with someone that is not white…I’m still white. Just like men making decisions about my female parts is bullshit, and we all know it, I argue that this is the same thing.

The school district is fighting to change, trying to change, but not changing fast enough. Where is the urgency, Madison? We are asking her to run again next year? We needed her now. The students need her now…and they are our future.


3 thoughts on “Racial Representation Matters”

  1. Meredith Temple says:

    I thought your piece was fantastically done! It’s brave because it asks all the right (inconvenient) questions and it nips the heels of the choices we make. If we go with another candidate similarly qualified as others on the board, does that move the board’s greater understanding and ability to serve its purpose better, or does it mean we have a board with an overall satisfying profile?

    It’s fragile ground, and to ask these questions is to dance very close to things you are NOT saying–such as that black people or women people or other non-males must, if elected, “be” a certain way in their advocacy. It would be easier to take your questions here and turn them into something they are not. We readers have to be disciplined to find the learning element in things like this, and know the end game in reading controversial thought pieces isn’t to argue about them to impress our point (our to be impressive!!), but to find the part that introduces us to a new perspective or possibility.

    I happen to agree with your point here. I don’t always. But no matter what there’s no denying that you raise incredible questions and then conduct the most open follow up so that we can learn to discuss together without devolving.

    Thanks for the post, the courage, the mentoring through respectful follow up and for using your gifts or words and action as a hella one/two punch.

    1. sara@thealvaradogroup.com says:

      Thank you for the feedback and your thoughts! There was a lot of discussion on the Facebook posting (link below) and sometimes the arguments tried to divide and other times there was a strong attempt for understanding. Your point reminded me of a friend who gets asked to serve on boards and committees a lot, and she agrees that sometimes she feels like she is being asked because she is African American and the organization is trying to diversify. The discussion was interesting because she feels like it is something she wants to do, to fill that spot to create more diversity on boards, and in doing so she always brings her whole self to the table. But many times people have made it clear that they don’t want her whole self, they want her to go along with the agenda while feeling good that there is a person of color at the table. She has changed how she accepts roles because of this experience and is now very specific in making sure the role is a good fit for her and there is a real understanding of why, besides her race, they find her valuable to the organization.

      When this happens over and over again, it is incredibly demeaning, frustrating and moves us backwards while we are trying to move forward. Thanks for pointing that out Meredith, because you are right, there is so much more to it and we will always be peeling back the layers. Thank you for your willingness to get messy with me on this journey!

      The Facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/sara.alvarado.madison/posts/10210780255877509.

  2. Heather says:

    Thank you Sara. I was so hoping she would win. Sadly, I couldn’t vote for her because I am in Monona. I didn’t realize Monona is not Madison when we moved here. There is a lot I didn’t know about Madison when we moved here. I knew something didn’t feel right and when I stumbled upon the Race to Equity report I thought, WOW I knew it was racist but worst in the nation on many fronts? I have been angry many times since my move here. The sense of urgency is not here. I read the WI state budget over the weekend and then read some other report that talked about how race needed to be in every policy. I don’t remember reading that focus on racial discrimination in the WI budget, except in the CJS. And that was sad to me anyway, because there wasn’t much focus on prevention and a focus on reforms to children in jail. I kept thinking, we are putting CHILDREN in jail. That is a human rights violation, it is in no way, shape or form JUST. I listened to Malala Yousafzai’s speech as she received honorary Canadian citizenship and many times screamed “yes,” as she said “hopefully your neighbors will follow your example” regarding refugees, that next time she comes to a PM meeting she wants to see “half of these seats filled by woman,”etc. We need people like her in positions of power. Truth tellers. Thanks for being a Madison truth teller.

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