At last week’s Washington City Council meeting, a retired junior high teacher declared that racism does not exist in Washington because they did not witness it in school; furthermore, they saw no evidence of systemic racism in the school system.
I encourage this retired teacher and all Washingtonians to heed the words of my eighth-grade algebra teacher, Ms. Boleman, who taught us to: “Never assume. It makes a [you-know-what] out of u and me.”
That a white teacher does not observe racism, of course, does not mean that it does not exist. We cannot conclude that racism does not exist in our schools unless every single student who is a person of color declares that to be true.
The Racial Equity Tools Glossary (RacialEquityTools.org/glossary) defines structural (or systemic) racism as:
“The normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal – that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. Structural racism encompasses the entire system of white domination, diffused and infused in all aspects of society including its history, culture, politics, economics and entire social fabric. Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism. Structural racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism emerge from structural racism.”
White people (myself included) may not recognize systemic racism until they have educated themselves about the issue. To the retired junior high teacher and other historically minded individuals, might I recommend reading Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.”
Another way we can learn is by truly listening to community members who are people of color about their lived experiences.
Several horrifying experiences have been shared at recent City Council meetings and in letters to the editor. Declaring that racism does not exist in Washington is an attempt to erase the reality faced by these community members.
I encourage the Washington City Council to listen, learn and act to end racism here in our town.
One way to do this is to form a diversity committee that will review city policies for implicit bias, educate our community on anti-racism, and advocate for marginalized groups. Washington For Justice will be proposing such a committee at the Oct. 20 council meeting.
To learn more about Washington For Justice, email WashingtonForJustice@gmail.com or join the Washington For Justice Facebook group.