Creating community solutions to improve equity

When we get lost in our individuality, we forget we are a part of many communities.

Editor's Note: This is a monthly educational series about racism. Contributors include Donna Hight, Beth Castle, Margaret Lin, Deanna West-Torrence, Renda Cline, Tiffany Mitchell, Crystal Davis Weese, Brigitte Coles and Amy Hiner.

Well, 2020 was quite a year, and 2021 promises to not be without its challenges. Our intellectual and emotional capacity have been stretched like a rubber band, almost to that point where it snaps. More importantly, we have struggled watching communities unwilling to open their hearts and minds to the impact of systemic racism, thereby undermining what community is and for whose benefit it exists.

Community is incredibly hard to define because we call things communities that are not, and we create communities where none may have existed. One possible definition of community is a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong together. By this definition, is Mansfield a community? Is Richland County? Are we willing to be more than just people who live near one another? Do we want to be a community?  

We do not have community by proximity alone rather by relationships with one another and the inclusive engagement of all in defining what bonds us. We must embrace our responsibility to one another over our individual liberty and well-being. 

Community exists when we bring everyone together, regardless of culture, opinion or other difference, and we listen and work together to create systems that work for all. 

Community based solutions cannot exist if we do not bring everyone to the table to address the root causes and structural barriers that need to be overcome to address health and other inequities.  We may not have created them; we need to learn how to overcome them together.  

Collaborative or human centered design is critical to creating meaningful and long-lasting change.  We must know thy neighbor and know thyself—meaning learn about, communicate with and partner together to create change that works for all not some.

As a white woman from the south, I have become increasingly aware of how little I know. I too am also aware that there is much from which I systemically benefit that I have not stopped to question. Every day I am learning, changing and being deeply moved intellectually and emotionally. I must set intentions to really be present to call out and understand what I have never had reason to question. 

There are so many historical inequities memorialized in the systems we negotiate daily, where we see the results yet do not question how we got them, blaming individuals and groups rather than the systems and institutions as the source of these issues.  Individualism reigns over community, and capitalism reigns over community health and well-being.  

The very American notions of rugged individualism and capitalistic success focus on self over community, resulting in one percent owning between 50 and 90 percent of the nation’s wealth, depending on the source.  

We need to learn what we were never taught about history, because the history we have learned is seeing the world from the perspective of being white and what it means to be white. And in an increasingly diverse world, this no longer serves us. 

History has created the systems, and we participate daily in holding up things that benefit some and not all because we know little to nothing about our past.

The first step in this journey should be reframing the meaning of important concepts of racial injustice and separating these from labels that impact our own individual sense of self and focus on the good of the community. We get so lost in filtering things through our point of view or sense of self, we fail to realize the impact of systems on our neighbors.  

When we get lost in our individuality, we forget we are a part of many communities—Mansfield, Richland County, Ohio, the United States and the world at large. Nothing is about a single person or group as we always impact one another in community—choices have consequences, not only for us personally but for the entire community. We are the rocks in the pond, we all create ripples.

Systemic racism, which refers to the systems in place that perpetuate racial injustice, has three parts. First, it is historically specific. Second, in systemic racism, the practices and behaviors that perpetuate racism within a system are now part of the system itself. Finally, if the system provides advantages for some, it disadvantages others. There is a great video on how racism has been historically built into systems.

Racial categories did not exist prior to the mid-1600’s.  They were created to convey untrue notions of inferiority and inequality, arguably as a distraction to separate poor white people and people of color from banding together against the white elite. Watch “How America Invented Race,” if you want to understand the beginnings of the creation of race to separate us, mainly as a means of creating more financial wealth for a few.  

As indicated earlier, these systems continue to exist, and they are still used to separate us from one another from creating alliances. Imagine the power we could have in the community if we stopped believing the things that separate us and work together for the good of our entire community. 

Reflect on how you can create meaningful change within our communities, change that benefits us all regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious belief or other differences. Take time to learn the real history, the recovered history of groups of people who have been erased as valued and valuable to community. Due to difference—this has been repeated across history. 

We have separated and vilified different groups for various reasons, most often with no historical or current basis in fact for doing so. Two simple things can co-exist that I, as a person, am trying to honor and love others who are different than me, and I can see and act on the systems we need to change so the systems also honor the needs of everyone in our community.  

In 2021 let us open our hearts and minds to creating a community that honors relationships, humanity and shared purpose rather than proximity. 

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