Members of BRJA respond to newspapers, magazines, organizational newsletters and other public forums of information to correct how race is framed in the media and the general consciousness. Our hope is that others will use their voices to raise questions about stereotypes, incomplete representations or facts, misunderstandings and other issues that create obstacles to equity. Below are samples of letters to editors/individuals/blogs that members of BRJA have written.
Obama’s triumph isn’t end of racism
I couldn’t agree more with David Levering Lewis’ assessment, as reported by Scott Calvert, that the election of President Barack Obama should not lead us to think that racism is a thing of the past (“Obama election won’t resolve ‘problems of race,’ historian says,” Feb. 8). Mr. Lewis goes on to stress that the president will need to address the “rather specific disabilities that afflict people of color.” As a white person who all my life has seen the racism white people direct toward people of color, particularly people of African descent, I would state the issue differently. I think those of us who are white and supported Mr. Obama’s campaign (or who didn’t but want a country that is truly just) must rid ourselves, our families, our places of worship, our institutions of the affliction of racism – of white supremacy and our often unrecognized abuse of white privilege. It is we who have a “disability” – blindness when it comes to seeing that racism still persists all around us. It is up to us to stand behind Mr. Obama when he makes decisions and takes actions aimed at ending racial injustice. It is up to us to stand against those in the media or the political arena who would label any attempt Mr. Obama makes to name and confront racism as “playing the race card” or “being divisive” or otherwise try to confound an issue that should be straightforward: If we seek justice, we must end racism.
The mayor’s statement that Baltimore has always been integrated is a typical white distortion of the truth. As a white person, I am well aware of the fact that we would like very much for this particular part of our history to go away, much like the Germans, I suppose, would like the Holocaust to go away. It is very difficult to face one’s sins, whether individually or communally. However, we should not forget that the young black students of Morgan State had to bravely endure potentially dangerous sit-ins in order to have access to restaurants; that African American women had to boycott department stores in order to get service comparable to whites; that African Americans in droves had to march on Gwynn Oak Park in order to have access to a public facility. As the mayor of a predominantly African American city, Mr. O’Malley should be on board with his own city’s history, and be a leader in being honest and open about it so that real reparations can be made to heal us all.
Jailing millions hasn’t stopped cycle of violence
It is time to rethink the devastating impact the arrest and incarceration of human beings has on our families and communities (“Study: 1 in 5 young black city men in jail,” March 15). Large-scale incarceration does not make us safer or reduce violence. It has not stopped the cycle of addiction and poverty, as the “war on drugs” has purported that it would do for decades. Incarcerating so many people is a racist way of controlling poor people and people of color. What would make us safer, create justice and build thriving communities would be to take the $22,000 we spend per inmate per year and use it for drug treatment, quality education, community schools, jobs with living wages, decent and affordable housing, family and community services and quality health care for all. The cost would be less and the investment would be worth it. It’s time we support policies that shift resources from criminal justice budgets to community resources.
Greater access to English skills would aid state
Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer recently expressed outrage that an employee of a fast-food restaurant lacked sufficient English-language skills to provide him the level of customer service he sought (“Delayed fast-food order fodder for comptroller,” May 6). However one may characterize Mr. Schaefer’s attitude, this incident offers an opportunity to reaffirm some important points that should inform Maryland public officials and the citizens who elect them.
First, many studies have shown that immigrants have a strong desire to learn English and to help their children learn it. They recognize the key role of English skills in getting a better job and a good education for their children. However, across the United States there are long waiting lists for accessible, affordable courses for adults in English as a second language. Second, most of the world’s people use more than one language routinely in their daily life and work. It is neither necessary nor desirable to forget or abandon one language in order to learn another. And being bilingual and biliterate confers significant cognitive and other advantages.
As elected officials of a multicultural, multilingual state such as Maryland, both Mr. Schaefer and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. have a responsibility to work to provide affordable and accessible English-language learning opportunities for those who require them. Or, alternatively, to refrain from criticizing taxpayers whose hard work contributes to the state’s economy.
I have been receiving Chronicles since 2004. I was pleased to see R. Paul Warren, a white male, welcomed as a new board member with a picture on the front page of this month’s Chronicles. The board was in need of a little gender balance. However, it occurred to me that I have never seen a picture in the Chronicles welcoming Cynthia Taylor, Janice Mason or Caroline Nichols, all of whom happen to be African-American females. As a white member of the Susanna Wesley House Strategic Planning Committee, I’m certain that no slight is or was intended, but a slight occurred, nonetheless. As a member of the Baltimore Racial Justice Action, I feel compelled to point out that diversity is not something we have to teach, it is a fact of America. Consequently, it is all the more incumbent on us to make a special effort to ensure our communications represent who we are and whom we serve.
Thank you for letting me bring this to your attention.
Dear Mr. ———-:
I was present at the Save Middle East Action Committee (SMEAC) Conference on Saturday, August 25, 2007 as an observer from Baltimore Racial Justice Action. You seemed sincere about your desire to work with the residents of middle east Baltimore. In an effort to make your interaction with them in the future more fruitful, I wanted to bring to your attention two actions that you took that may have hampered your effectiveness.
The most obvious to me was your attempt to circumvent the organization’s planned agenda. Of course I don’t know what your intent was, but the impact of your action was to give the appearance of a white man stepping in and attempting to strip power from poor black people – the opposite of your professed reason for being there. From my perspective the agenda was clear and fair and was not in need of any alteration.
The second action was how you tried to circumvent the agenda. Your implication that you should be given your way, by referring to yourself as a guest of SMEAC, as an attempt to manipulate them is, again, the exact opposite of how a guest should behave. I cannot emphasize enough the additional impact this kind of action has in the context of a white man interacting with people of color.
As a white person myself, I know we need to be conscious of these dynamics. Thank you for taking time to consider these reflections. If you would like to discuss this further, Baltimore Racial Justice Action would be happy to meet with you.
In 1926, when Carter G. Woodson first advocated for “Black History Week,” not only were the contributions of African descendants ignored, but American history was deliberately whitewashed (pun intended). Those responsible for writing what we now accept as the popular history of this country whitewashed the contributions of people of color, whitewashed the white-supremacist aspect of the country’s foundation and history, and whitewashed the generational impact—economic, legal, political, business—of those decisions.
In the time between 1926 to 2010, much has changed, especially as it relates to the laws and customs that upheld racial oppression. The change is undeniable and should rightfully be celebrated, even as we continue to live with the impact of the legacy of American Apartheid.
So do we still need one month to emphasize and “celebrate” Black History? Here is an alternative: Let’s do an overhaul of what is represented as “American History” so that the history of those of European descent is not over-represented, while the histories of others who make up and contribute to this country are under-represented.
Every citizen should expect a more comprehensive and inclusive American history to be taught in schools each and every month of the year. As a country we should be ready to accept a history that is more truthful in its inclusiveness and in its honest recognition of the country’s deeply flawed character as relates to its citizens of color, without turning away, denying, or minimizing historical racial oppression or its continuing economic, educational, and social impact on Americans of African descent and other people of color.
Finally, I would audaciously propose that we take care to contextualize the history of this country in a way that emphasizes thoughtful and inclusive context over American mythology. Let’s go deeper than the use of constant staples such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and others whose lives and stories only skim the surface of a vibrant and robust history and the meaningful contributions of African descendants in America. Let’s stop framing their stories in a way that strips them of their essence and re-packages them in ways that negate the context of the times and the veracity of their causes.
Let’s go deeper than re-working the history of African descendants and other people of color to ensure that they are a “comfortable” fit for a historical context that is viewed from the lens of American mythology (“land of the free, home of the brave,” “all men created equal,” and the like) and from the lenses and perspectives of those who have had and continue to have a clear bias and agenda in promoting and maintaining this mythology.
The fact that there is still a need for Black History Month instead of a wholesale incorporation of it in American History—from the lenses and perspectives of those who generationally experienced the “backside” of the American experience—speaks volumes about who we are as a country; how we (still) feel about the truth of our history; and how far we have, and have not, come.