Back on the racism-monitor beat

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ShaRhonda Knott Dawson

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As a racial scholar and advocate, focused on white, liberal, northern racism, I've been closely following the Oak Park racial equity "vision statement" discussions. I am stunned that there is struggle over the words of a vision statement! It's just words! Folks are mad and there is literally nothing actually being proposed that will do anything, for anyone.

Watching has been an emotional roller coaster. I've laughed, cried, and yelled. I've also been encouraged by the fearlessness of Community Relations Commission (CRC) members and new board trustees calling out racist nonsense (go, Arti, go!). 

Despite my emotions, I was optimistic Oak Park was committed to working on its racism. But then the village trustees appointed someone to be the leader of the CRC without the input of CRC members! (What is this, Latin America?)

With that move, my hopes for racial progress in Oak Park were dashed. I decided to take a break from my research and retire from my self-appointed role as "OP racism monitor" for my own mental health.

For a while, I was doing well, minding my own business, ignoring racism in Oak Park, and focusing on other things.

Then someone sent me the WJ op-ed by Village President Abu-Taleb titled, "We can do better than 'us vs. them'" [Viewpoints, June 5]. After reading it, I was back on OP racial monitoring duty! I grabbed my "OP racism monitor outfit" (it's an orange vest and whistle) and blew my whistle because this piece was a racism violation. The whole piece was bad, but the part that made me end my retirement was this statement:

"Over the last 50 years, through the goodness, generosity, decency and foresight of its people and its leaders, Oak Park has maintained a national reputation of being a welcoming place for all of us. Rather than live in communities that predominantly reflect their own race and are surrounded by people who have similar views, residents of Oak Park, regardless of their skin color and regardless of their creed, choose to live here because diversity makes us stronger. Our lives are fuller because of our exposure to each other's views, struggles, aspirations, successes and cultures."

I was stunned and angry. None of anything he wrote has to do with racism, systemic racism, or a racial equity platform! But then, I thought, maybe he doesn't know the difference between diversity and racism. So instead of being mad, I will use this as a teaching opportunity.

Here is my unsolicited list of things that don't stop you from being racist, supporting racist institutions, or have anything to do with a racial equity platform:

Having a black friend. 

Having a black neighbor

Working with black people.

Getting paid to help black people. 

Having a black romantic partner.

Having black children. 

Liking black artists. 

Liking black athletes.

Seeing a "suspicious black person" and not calling the police. 

Being a "good person." 

Being muslim.

Being an immigrant. 

Being black (we still participate and   uphold racist systems)

Your children having black friends.

Liking rap music. 

Voting for Barack Obama. 

Serving on a board of directors for an organization that helps black people.

 Liking jazz or the blues.

Mentoring "at-risk" black youth 

Sharing an anti-racism post on Facebook. 

Being a non-white person. 

Knowing the latest popular black group dance.

Being a Christian.

Being a Democrat.

Being agnostic.

Being a vegetarian or vegan.

Doing yoga.

Speaking Spanish.

Sending your child to a school that has "some"    non-white students.

Doing anything with rescue pets.


Acknowledging you have white privilege.

Being poor. 

Hating Ann Coulter (everyone should hate her because she is the spawn of Satan).

Being Jewish. 

Being LGBTQQ+. 

Living in the North. 

Choosing to live in Oak Park.

Whether you are racist or not racist has almost zero to do with your personal beliefs.

Being anti-racist has 100% to do with your commitment to actually doing things to dismantle racism. Being anti-racist requires action, accountability and choosing to give up white privilege and redistribute wealth and resources that were taken from black folks by a racist system. 

The start of anti-racism is a racial equity platform.

Don't believe me? Google it.

ShaRhonda Knott Dawson is a west suburban resident who is involved in multiple service organizations and projects in, and around, Oak Park. Her writing can be found on her blog,

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Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 11:30 PM

ShaRhonda "Margaret Mead" Dawson is at it again: back studying us native Oak Parkers ? once more. Yep she came here after an arduous journey from that far off distant civilized land known as the "Western Suburb." She labors mightily doing her anthropological field work in primitive Oak Park to further her study and explain to the rest of the civilized world our signature cultural practice: racism. Perhaps the WJ will dutifully compile her prior scholarship - such as it is - in a book: "Coming of Age in Oak Park: Growing up Racist"

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 7:18 PM

@ Aaron. 1. The case you cite is older than you and not relevant to Oak Park today. Thanks for the history lesson though. 2. Please cite a study in Oak Park, NOT ILLINOIS. The topic at hand is specifically Oak Park. Post a link though of the aforementioned study. I would like to read it. 3. Are you holding leadership of the high school accountable for this? Probably not, because they're black. Disparity in results does not equate to racism. Correlation is NOT causation. Somehow the Asian, Latin, and Indian kids figure it out. Why don't the racist policies negatively impact their test scores? 4. 5. Trustees just unanimously approved a 37 unit affordable housing. The median rent in Oak Park is $1,033 / month. What median rent would you deem affordable?

Kline Maureen  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 1:07 PM

ShaRhonda, I notice you don't include "paying a black person to work for you" on your list. And, if it's "just words" as you say (and I tend to agree) why is the diversity statement so important to anybody? Maybe we should scrap the whole thing. After all, is it really up to us to try to analyze and micromanage all the reasons people may or may not chose to reside here? I'm not sure...

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 12:39 PM

How does the writer know Ann Coulter is the spawn of Satan, was she there when the act was culminated and if she knows can she tell us who Satan spawned with to produce Ann Coulter?

James Peters from Oak Park  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 11:42 AM

Aaron McManus, Do I have the right Coates case for reparations? Is it the one related to fraudulent real estate practices on Chicago's West Side in the '60s? I didn't see reference to Oak Park.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 11:33 AM

Prediction from an old article: "If the racial profiling crusade shatters this commonality between law-abiding inner-city residents and the police, it will be just those law-abiding minorities who will pay the heaviest price." And if you look at the current Chicago area crime statistics, both by neighborhood, and by the race of the victims, that's exactly what happened.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 11:25 AM

If everyone is racist and the only way to solve that is to force them to redistribute their wealth, that is a pretty low probability way to get them to stop being racist. Like zero probability. You can take all their stuff, but they aren't going to start liking you as you do it. So if that is the plan it is time to come up with something else, unless all you want is to take stuff from others and have an excuse to do it.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 10:55 AM

It appears as if the author is guilty of projection/hatred - and her insistence that she is 100% correct. Societies completely fracture when people like this have any authority - supplemented by their supporters and apologists. The voter turnout in the recent election strongly suggests, though, that most residents just do not care about this sort of stuff. I don't know if this is a positive or negative? Both?

Elizabeth Dyrsmid  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 10:53 AM

Alice, that's not what racial profiling is. Here are some great actual examples from the ACLU website: The use of race to determine which drivers to stop for minor traffic violations (commonly referred to as "driving while black or brown"), or the use of race to determine which pedestrians to search for illegal contraband. Another example of racial profiling is the targeting, ongoing since the September 11th attacks, of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians for detention on minor immigrant violations in the absence of any connection to the attacks on the World Trade Center or the Pentagon.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 10:36 AM

Aaron McManus - speaking of the profiling, should the police be allowed to use the description of a criminal in their effort to solve a crime? Why or why not? In other words, if the perpetrator is described as a tall black man, should they be searching and questioning short white women as well, just to satisfy the resident race hustlers?

Aaron McManus  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 9:48 AM

Gotta love the WE ARENT RACISTS who pop up every time with the same denials. Ramona, here's a partial list of systems of oppression in oak park: 1) housing policies (reference Coates case for reparations and redlining in oak park) 2) racial profiling of black people by police (there is an Illinois study and recent data) 3) schools (lack of black teachers/staff and over displining of Black students and racial bias in teachers in nominating black students to gifted and talented plus outcome gaps 4) housing policy 5) tax breaks for housing developers and none (yet, the voted on it but no money has been allocated) for low-income housing.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 8:45 AM

"A racial scholar" That's hilarious. Another delusional piece from Ms. Dawson. Wonder if this expert on Oak Park racism could be specific when people speak of "racist" policies in the schools or "systems of oppression" in Oak Park. She should have all the answers!!!

Josh Vanderberg  

Posted: June 13th, 2019 8:31 AM

Get it Oak Park? Nothing protects you from being called a racist by ShaRhonda. My suggestion to Oak Park: stop worrying about whether or not ShaRhonda thinks you are a racist. My suggestion to the village board: pass a new statement, incorporating the perspectives of all trustees. This is called compromise, not racism. Then do your best to incorporate the statement's principles into our government and make it real.

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