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.
I’d like to share my experience with you this summer as I watched a number of our community leaders here stand squarely in the face of evidence of glaring disparities in our county/state/nation between White and Black people.
From education to housing, and employment to criminal justice, the evidence is apparent that something is happening very differently here. I observed them grappling with the cognitive dissonance resulting from feeling one way and being obliged to behave in another. I listened to them struggle with personal feelings of empathy while having to maintain a sterile and safe distance from the ugliness. Because while one issue may seem casual to one, it is crucial to another. For some of us, this issue is way too important to be dismissed.
I talked with people in leadership from different political persuasions as they were confronted with new terms like social determinants of health and systemic racism. Terms like equity and anti-racism began to be mentioned in meetings across various sectors. Despite the circumstances, I was heartened to finally be hearing those terms come up in rooms where those present actually have the power and influence to make a difference.
There were questions and there were very frank discussions that revealed that none of us are really enjoying this divisive political scene around here. They realize that if things don’t improve for everyone, the entire county suffers and that it’s in our best interest to look after one another. Honestly, watching the whole thing made me feel better.
In my Sophia Petrillo of the Golden Girls voice—Picture it:
Summer 2020, Mansfield, Richland County joins the rest of the world in battling COVID-19 when racial tensions erupt in Minneapolis, Minnesota resulting in protests across the country and around the world decrying the continued unnecessary killing of Black citizens by police.
Fearful that violence will erupt in Mansfield too, discussions begin across various sectors about how we address this as a local community. Should a statement be made? Should we take a position? Private phone calls and several conversations revealed a natural human response. But mostly in hushed tones. People feared “coming out” against systemic racism because the implications of doing so seemed too risky.
Meanwhile a group of young ladies begin planning a local protest and emotions on the local level begin escalating. Fortunately, the protest was well attended and peaceful—despite the justified anger of those in attendance—and those who chose not to be, in the spirit of keeping peace.
At the same time an anti-racist resolution is proposed and the gears of political propaganda began grinding. It becomes obvious that support for the resolution could not be taken for granted and discussions ensued as well as evidence presented to those voting. In the face of data and dozens of letters of support, there was a force that ensured that here in this community, our leadership could deny the obvious.
Enter pseudo journalism. Articles on the proposed resolution begin appearing on what appeared to be a website for the local faith community. They were being shared across Facebook and Black pastors and other faith leaders were moved to the forefront in direct opposition to fighting systemic racism.
Photos of Black pastors were peppered throughout the site in articles in support of things and people I knew some, but not all, of them did not. Having spoken to several of them since, they couldn’t recall being interviewed and had simply replied to questions that were given no context at all. Most did not even know the site existed. Yet here it was, misrepresenting the intentions of the legislation and pitting people, even Black people, against one another over the fact that systemic racism is bad and results in very different outcomes for people. It proved to be quite effective. Which is why I am talking about it.
But we do need a media. We need an honest teller of truth that we can all rely on with confidence. I remember learning in high school that our media was in reality a watchdog of our government and the freedom of the press was deemed an essential part of being an American citizen. It was often referred to as the fourth branch of government. It is designed to keep the other three branches accountable.
We rely on our local media to take the temperature of our community in various ways. Ideally, they keep us informed with factual information. Unfortunately, due to new forms of “media,” anyone can present their information as “journalism” minus that whole fact-checking and truthful part. Hang with me, I really am going somewhere with this.
Ok. So how do we thrive in these conditions? Because we cannot tell the intentions of others, we hang on for dear life to our individual humanity. We empathize and reflect on how our actions will impact others. We dig deeper than political slogans or propaganda being fed to us when we know otherwise. We realize that we can no longer trust all that we read and so we have to sit down and trust one another. Especially in these most divisive times.
I encourage our local leaders to continue to challenge and question their own beliefs and act in accordance. Don’t be afraid to learn new things about each other. I learned that some of our leaders were way more thoughtful on these issues than I thought. I learned that some were truly open to listening, learning and seeing things from a different angle. I appreciate those efforts and hope that we have leadership that isn’t afraid to do the right thing when presented with an opportunity. I also learned that not all of us agree on a credible source. Either way, we learn.
What we’ve been doing so far hasn’t worked, so let’s try something new. We can’t just talk about racism when there is a tragedy, because emotions are running too high at that time. On the other hand, when things are not so intense, we can’t fail to address it because things are seemingly fine. It is at those times that we do what we would do in any other situation, we consider the source and determine what action we can take. We should expect nothing less from our leaders.