In the past couple of months, so many local Black leaders and long-time Black activists have told me that this is indeed a moment like they’ve never seen. The undeniability of racial inequity has torn the scales from many white eyes, rendering many of us belatedly horrified by the severe disparities that leave People of Color highly susceptible to death, disease and disenfranchisement. I’ve witnessed a burst of energy, a push to capitalize on this sudden enlightenment of the masses before the moment fades.
But truth be told, the enlightenment is fading fast. Although the families of George Floyd, Daniel Prude and countless others will continue to grieve through the holidays, the protests are now few and far between. The echoes of chants have been swept by Fall winds from the hardened surfaces of the city. So too, the reverberation of pepper-ball guns (over 6,000 shots were fired) and the acrid odor of tear gas. The election drama and COVID dominate the media now.
And this is where the tedious, plodding work of change must begin. No fanfare, no high-energy rallies, no press conferences. This is when the casual protestor might tend to settle back, feel self-congratulatory about having participated in a remarkable moment, and go on about life, privilege firmly intact.
How will I respond? How will you respond?
I’ll assume you wish to be a part of the solution, of the healing, of the wrenching reset of the scales of justice. If you struggle to find your place, here are a few suggestions:
There are local movements and initiatives that address racial injustice inherent in the housing markets in nearly all suburbs. Many townships are now beginning to face the truth about the barriers within their building codes and zoning laws that uphold de facto and de jure segregation, e.g.:
- In Fairport, Mayor Matthew Brown has been shining a light on such barriers, with help from residents Tiffany Porter (Beingblackintheburbs@gmail.com) and Bill Wynne (email@example.com).
- In Irondequoit, Town Board member Patrina Freeman (@patrina_freeman) has been addressing housing inequities, working with the Irondequoit Commission Advancing Racial Equity (ICARE).
- In Brighton, Community Uprooting Racism in Brighton (@CURBrighton) has been working on justice issues for years with support from Mayor Bill Moehle. And Brighton Allies for Racial Justice is a newly-formed group as well.
- In Pittsford, Town Board members Kevin Beckford (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Stephanie Townsend (email@example.com) have been teaming for a couple of years to challenge laws and attitudes that keep Pittsford very white. They are original members of Pittforward which has been an active advocate organization for about six years.
If there is not an active group like that in your area, bring people together and start one. You will need others to be with you. This work becomes too challenging to attempt as a lone voice, especially as you raise the most indicting, provocative questions. Ask for time with your local town council members, with your County legislator. Speak with them about your values, and about what specifically you believe needs to change in your town. Ask, for example:
- What are the barriers to truly affordable housing? (Did you know there are apartments that come under the official definition of “affordable” and rent for $1,400 per month?)
- Are people living at or near the poverty level effectively excluded?
- Are the zoning laws such that few People of Color, even those with moderate means, could afford to build there?
- Are the schools so starkly white (students and teachers and administrators) that a Black student would feel immediately out-of-place, a disincentive for Black families to move there in the first place?
Arrange to bring Shane Wiegand to town. Shane has given well over 150 presentations in the area on the history and current realities of redlining, gentrification and urban renewal. His basic presentation never fails to stimulate. A sample of his session and his contact information are included in Resources below.
If the issue of equitable housing doesn’t resonate for you, here’s an offer: In the past six years, I’ve been curating lists of articles, videos, books, facts, and quotes in about 15 categories related to racism. One of those categories is “White Action,” 13 pages packed with possibilities. I will gladly send you that document if you write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The internet is also teeming with a burgeoning flow of more of the same. Google “How to be a white ally.”
There might have been a time when a sincere white person who had care, compassion and concern could claim with a helpless shrug, “I just don’t know how to get involved!” Now more than ever, that can only be seen as lazy complicity.
Please reply to this post, telling us what you are doing or what you intend to do. This may be helpful to others who need to hear more possibilities, or who might want to join with you. More importantly, posting here will publicly commit you to act.
I heard myself coin a phrase recently when talking with a Black friend. I had asked him how he persists in all his activist work, given how disheartening it can be at times. After listening for a while I said, “I hear a kind of patient urgency.” His smile and fist-pump told me that resonated. Find that sweet spot for yourself. There is no time to waste. Don’t let “the moment” fade in your life. As John Lewis urged, make “good trouble!”
“Irondequoit establishes racial equity commission” Rochester Business Journal.
“Moments of Interruption” 4-min. video by Cornel West, revered author and commentator on American society.
“What Action Looks Like: One Man’s Story” Bill Wynne’s initiatives to dismantle racism in Fairport.
“A Just Economy Requires A New Civil Rights Movement” Includes the distinction between de facto and de jure discrimination.
“How anti-racism is a treatment for the ‘cancer’ of racism” PBS Newshour interview with Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi.
“The City/Suburban Divide in Living Color” Blog post.
Showing Up for Racial Justice Rochester chapter has some resources and events you might find helpful.