The pandemic gave us more time to consider what is important and the discussion about past wrongs and systemic racism, providing opportunity to change. I have learned that ensuring that we do right by all in our communities and not repeat the wrongs of the past is ongoing work that is never done. Each generation needs to understand the damage caused by racism, violence, sexism, bullying, and our obligation to hold on to progress. Here are some thoughts about this journey.
First, focusing only on property damage and looting in this context implies that a property crime is equivalent to hundreds of years of damage caused by slavery and racism. Attending our national history and personal racism does not mean we ignore other crimes. Focusing only on property crime tells people who live with fear and harm each day for themselves and their children that we care more about property than human pain and systemic racism. I want us to be more. I am a public figure entrusted with representing the people in my community and responsible for taking what action I can to right wrongs and make our state a better place. I have an obligation to speak up and be transparent. I know that. Finding the right words is hard, but not as hard as taking the right step and not nearly as hard as living with racism as a person of color. As a legislator, I have increased funding for law enforcement training and classes, and supported teaching the truth in our schools.
As an individual I do not find it comfortable to talk about the horror, shame, anger, frustration, and helplessness that I feel. My resolve? Be uncomfortable, speak up, stop worrying about embarrassment and listen better. Risk asking hard questions, don’t rely on others to do the work. This is discomfort, not a threat to my life, my family, my home, or my future.
What I am hearing from friends and colleagues who are living this nightmare as people of color? Some answers: exhaustion, anger, not being heard, frustration at lack of progress, fury at the fall from the elation of having the first Black president to a world where the worst impulses are normalized, and so much more. I am hearing frustration at those of us who do not acknowledge our white privilege yet claim to be allies. I hear and share the dismay at the idea that anyone who speaks up about bullying, racism, demeaning language, and systemic racism is a “cream puff” and “too sensitive”. Since when did cruelty and aggressive rudeness become something that must be tolerated?
As a consultant, I once worked with a Black colleague to look deeply at a public organization where every person of color signed a complaint of systemic racism in both internal and external policies and actions. We were there to address the internal culture. One finding was that white managers would not risk being uncomfortable or wrong when communicating with people of color. Those who looked different from them were denied information they needed to do their job, the feedback they needed to improve, advance, and be successful. They did not get the assignments, rewards, and success within that system. White managers did not want to be “uncomfortable” or to be charged with racism or to get pushback on their own behavior and instead they felt proud of the racial diversity within the organization. They could not understand how both new and long-time employees could criticize such a great, diverse, and progressive organization.
Many of us don’t tolerate even joking remarks that clearly stink of racial bias, just as we mostly do not tolerate rape jokes, but sometimes it is hard to tell how deeply a colleague is hurt by someone’s insensitive or more subtle cut. To survive, people go along and get used to remarks that are not ok. Follow up, ask, and decide to do something. Don’t leave it up to the BIPOC community to change the culture and confront the problem. Exhaustion and survival behavior is real.
AS YOUR LEGISLATOR I STRIVE TO:
- Make our state agencies places of fairness and examples of the best workplaces.
- Look at the impact of our laws on racial issues.
- Address the past in prison reform and drug policy, education and land use.
- Continue the work on use of force legislation, body cams and more.
- Be willing to make mistakes and amends.
- Protect our elections.
- Embrace changes.
- Listen and act.
I know there is so much more. Please let me know how I can help, participate, and know more. This should not be a moment, but a sustained journey.