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 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 a vegetarian or vegan.
Sending your child to a school that has "some" non-white students.
Doing anything with rescue pets.
Acknowledging you have white privilege.
Hating Ann Coulter (everyone should hate her because she is the spawn of Satan).
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, sharhondatribune.com.
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