Last week I was offered the opportunity to share a testimonial of my experience at the YWCA Racial Justice Summit at their annual fundraiser luncheon, the YWCA Circle of Women, based on a blog post I wrote. There were about 800 people in the audience. I was out of my comfort zone. But I believe in the message so I didn’t chicken out. The message has been about my own internal work and the sometimes uncomfortable conversations I’ve had with people I know and with people I wouldn’t normally talk to.
What I hear is that people are concerned that this is just another conversation. And people want to know what to do next. They want to fix it, make it right, they want action items and a to-do list.
This is familiar territory for me. This is exactly what my experience has been; wanting to turn around the reality in Madison and change these statistics, change lives, make Madison what I imagine it should be. But in observing this for a while I’m gaining clarity on why I can’t just ask for a list of action items so I can check them off and see real change happen. First of all, if there were simple solutions, we wouldn’t be here. If someone knew exactly what the magic formula was, we wouldn’t be here.
I have not been living and breathing and working with the knowledge and understanding of the racial disparities in Madison. Please don’t judge me for that. I’ve heard bits and pieces and I’ve observed a disconnect in our community but for the most part I hadn’t grasped the magnitude of the problem until recently. So I put myself, a fairly aware and active community member in a bi-racial family, in the unaware category. Or we could call it denial. I think there are a lot of people in Madison that aren’t aware of the conversations, the information, the statistics and haven’t been exposed to the education available in the racial justice field. It isn’t that hard for someone to live in Madison and find themselves in a reality with very little diversity.
I imagine that it is incredibly frustrating for the people in Madison that have been aware of this crisis for a long time to hear from people like me that have lived in a different reality and didn’t ‘get it’ until recently with the Race to Equity Report coming out and the personal stories highlighted in the media. I’ve certainly had moments where I’ve felt bad about my ignorance. But if I feel ashamed then I am not able to work in the solution.
It isn’t about what is good or bad, right or wrong. It is just what it is. I know my story. And you know your story. What is your story? What are you capable of? What are you comfortable with?
Before we ask people to do this or that to create equality in Madison I would like to know, who are you? Who do you want to be?
I think we can put together a good list of action items. But I challenge you to take this action first…spend time with yourself and a journal and go inside. This is not just an outside job. Biases are inside. Stereotypes are inside. Beliefs are inside. Thoughts are inside.
Conversations, meetings, fundraisers, changing laws, changing policies, organizing communities, making friends…that is outside work.
I don’t know you. You know you. I don’t know what you are comfortable with. I don’t know what your skills are. You do. I don’t know what you have time to do. I don’t know what your passions are, your interests.
I challenge you to come up with your own resolutions based on YOU. I looked at my own process and how I came up with my personal resolutions and I share them here for you to consider and to hopefully inspire the warrior in you:
1) Where are you right now? Are you in the learning phase? I know I’m always learning. But I have a huge learning curve in regard to race relations in Madison and the racial disparities. The Hispanic community is different than the Black community is different from the Asian community, etc. I’m still learning about myself as a racial being. Understand and get honest with yourself about where you are and where you want to be. I want to educate myself so I can feel safe having conversations that would be positive and move us forward. I want to look deeper at my own internal beliefs and biases. I want to become more aware of what white privilege means to me in my life. That takes time and five years ago it wasn’t possible for me to take two days off to go to a racial justice summit so it didn’t happen. Where are you at right now in regards to how much time you have, and how willing you are to do the internal work?
Maybe you’ve done a lot of internal work. Maybe you work with the community of color on a daily basis and you can talk easily with friends and co-workers about race, diversity, biases, and injustices. You know what is going on in the community; you live it and breathe it. You are at a different place than others. Your action list will look very different. We need you to help those of us that are not as seasoned to create a safe place, to teach us and collaborate with us in a loving way.
2) What motivates you? Within the conversation of the racial disparities in Dane County what motivates you to move, to take action, to get involved? Are you introverted or extroverted? Do you like behind the scenes work or outreach? Know this about yourself in creating your goals to take action. I have a friend who has experience working with incarcerated men, many of whom are African American. She understands the system and the resources and programs available (or not available) to help and has worked in it (as a volunteer). She is making a positive difference in this specific area. Her action list is different than mine.
Read the Race to Equity Report and see what calls to you. What makes you angry? Is it the statistics related to education and the disparities of black vs white children and their reading levels? The graduation rates? Or do you skim through that section and get choked up reading about the health care disparities? Notice what affects you; what raises your heartbeat, what calls to you. That is how you can narrow your focus.
3) Where do you live? Where do you work? Where do your kids go to school? I’m in the real estate industry so that is the first place I can look at. I also am a business owner and am involved in the business community. I’m involved in different organizations. My list of action items will not be the same as yours. I reached out to a friend in real estate that is also passionate about the racial disparities. I asked her if we could work together to present to the realtors in our area and she was excited about the idea. That is on my to-do list. It probably won’t be on yours. I joined the diversity committee of Dane Buy Local and am helping put together an event to present to the members. Action items: read through your workplace policies and procedures with a different lens, could there be more inclusive and supportive language and/or policies to create a welcoming and diverse workplace? Would workplace discussions be helpful for creating a better work environment? Is there something you can get involved with at your kids school to support diversity and help make changes in the schools? Stop at that Mexican store you always drive past, buy locally from minority owned businesses to support and interact more.
4) Who are your friends? Creating a community of people that we are comfortable with, that we can work together with and that we can partner with is crucial. We can’t ‘do’ alone effectively. We need alone time to ‘be’ and to discover who we are. We need to be clear and conscious of who we ‘are’ before we can effectively ‘do’ anything. We need to come together to ‘do’. Both are important. Find, create, jump into a new community that will support your desire to make changes in Dane County around the racial disparities. I have new friends that I feel comfortable talking to about this crisis. I worry I will say the wrong things sometimes so I check in with them knowing they understand where my heart is. Other action items: integrate socially with families that look different than yours, go to events in Madison that you don’t normally attend like the Hmong New Year celebration, Latino Professionals networking events, Earth Day celebrations in different neighborhoods. Visit restaurants in areas you don’t normally hang out in, interact with people you don’t normally interact with.
5) Peace starts at home. Sounds so cliché. But really, think about it. Are you a parent? You have a huge gift and opportunity in how you raise your children. How are you talking to your kids about race, ethnicity, classicism, biases? This blog post helped me create a new conversation with my sons that changed the message that ‘we are all equal and our skin color doesn’t matter’ to a new conversation and our ability to talk about white privilege and what it is like for people that aren’t white. Some families have a foundation of unconditional love and the ability to have difficult conversations with acceptance and support. If you are blessed to have a family like this then there is no greater opportunity to open the door to discuss stereotypes, racism, biases in a safe place.
There will be people that believe that this isn’t their problem, or feel overwhelmed about it and freeze. My hope is that for those people we continue to love them and encourage them to do one tiny thing for the benefit of our beloved Madison…be aware. If nothing else, if people open up to the idea that everyone has biases and they aren’t bad, they simply are, and choose to notice them there will be a shift. Simply being aware can create a positive shift. The commitment to notice and become aware of how we think and what we believe based on skin color, socio-economic classifications, disabilities, language, the kind of car someone drives or whatever else, will absolutely create positive change.
Once we are aware of our own thoughts and beliefs we can decide if those thoughts and beliefs serve us, our community, our family or whoever it is we want to serve.
If I notice myself feeling scared when I encounter a black man I can ask myself if I think black men are scary. I might admit to myself that yes, sometimes I feel scared. That one moment of awareness opens the door for me to question that feeling, that belief. I am not a bad person because I had a bad thought. I live in a society that portrays more mug shots of black men than white men or women. Maybe I don’t have enough black men in my life that I love. Whatever happens next with those thoughts and that conversation in my own head and heart, the question becomes does this serve me? I don’t want to feel scared of a person because of the color of their skin. That is so stupid. Now I’m aware of a bias that I was too ashamed to admit I had. The ONLY way to make significant shifts and real change is by first becoming aware. For me, once I’m aware, the shift starts to happen for me. I don’t have to try and change my thoughts; they change on their own.
So for me, if EVERYONE in Madison committed to being aware and that is all EVERYONE did I believe we would see major changes happen. I could be totally off base.
But that’s just me. I don’t know. Perhaps more would happen if everyone started doing more and we could check off a bunch of things from our to-do list. It’s just that I believe that for meaningful change to take place we have to have awareness as the foundation. If I’m going to ask the White community to get involved to help change our current reality, I am certainly going to ask that we do the internal work first. I know, it’s hard to measure that.
Please share any action items or resolutions that you came up with. We need to see and feel the change because there are too many people hurting and our children are dying because of racism.