NEWSLETTER WEEK 32 – JANUARY 8, 2021
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We started drafting this newsletter last weekend thinking we would write about our antiracist resolutions and it has taken about 357845 turns since then. There are no words to articulate this week that feel adequate to use in this newsletter.
It feels important that we start by saying: everything that unfolded this week is about white supremacy. While it is tempting to call the actions of the pro-Trump rioters “un-American,” that would be entirely inaccurate. This wasn’t a fringe experience, this was the direct consequence of this nation’s inability to reckon with its own racist origins. Frankly, it would be gaslighting our Black and Brown neighbors to say that this rage-fueled coup was something we “never expected” or something “unlike anything we have seen before.”
Trump and his supporters have told us time after time that this was coming. The monuments we keep to prior insurrectionists have told us this was coming. Literally any critical analysis of our own prickles of shame, palpable rage, and beads of brow sweat that we feel when whiteness is mentioned could have told us this was coming. The jokes we allow others to tell in our presence, the defensiveness we feel when thinking about being asked to redistribute our money, the way we have fought to distance ourselves from those white people who did that terrible thing: all warning signs that this was coming. The way writing this my jaw is clenched, and the way reading this, yours probably is too, could have told us this was coming.
Our country has never reckoned with the real trauma of racism. We have raised generations believing that racism is something blatant and external and only worth discussing in small doses and in the abstract. We have grown up in a world that over-values intentions and under-values historical clarity.
Mobs of white people stoking chaos with absolute impunity is a real theme of US history. Need we remind ourselves of everything from the Spanish inquisition through lynch mobs through the Boston Tea Party through the Sand Creek Massacre through Charlottesville in 2017. This isn’t new.
Even writing this, we have to admit some level of desire to distance ourselves from that kind of whiteness. Maybe that’s the problem in and of itself. For generations, white folks have clung to the idea that our ability to emotionally distance ourselves from racism will absolve us from the very real harm that racism causes. We convolute the damage done with the assumed good intention of the actors (if we know them) or our “complete inability to conceptualize how someone could do something so terrible” (if we don’t).
We have been on the fence about sharing our antiracist resolutions this week so we’re rerouting to something similar but more pertinent. It seems like a good time for all of us to consider our values and strategize how to fight complicity. We preach sustainability of our antiracist goals all the time; one way to make our commitment to antiracism sustainable is to root it in other expressions of our core values. And we can’t root it in our other core values until we have determined what those values are.
So, this weekend, we encourage you to look through this worksheet (thank you DBT, you saved Emily’s life a few years back and the gifts just keep on giving! Therapy, y’all!) as a guide to naming your own values. If you don’t like this one, Emily’s friend Natalie shared this one with us too. If you don’t like either of those, google others or just write your own list! The point is to figure out what is true for you (and you’ll see that our organizational values don’t necessarily match any of these lists perfectly! Creative liberties abound, friends.). Once you map out your values, figure out how you can embed your commitment to antiracism within each of them.
We are all complicit in racism and the only way to interrupt our complicity is to acknowledge the harm that racism has done in our world. We believe it is imperative to audit our own behaviors, privileges, and choices in order to take responsibility for the way that we both benefit from and have participated in white supremacy culture.
We live in a world that over-values comfort and under-values the real work associated with reckoning with systems of oppression. Thus, we know that showing up, aware that in doing so we risk our imperfections being exposed, is an act of courage. We know that compassion is a radical act, especially when we can extend it toward each other. We seek to balance accountability with earnestness, leaving our ego at the door. We know that shame is not a long-term motivator for change, thus, we strive to create sustainable solutions based on accountability, with the goal of doing better once we know better.
DIGNITY + SOLIDARITY
We believe in the inherent value of every human being and their ability to speak for themselves. Unlearning Racism is an attempt to amplify the work of groups of people who have traditionally been spoken over. We are here to give credence to the work, ideas, and experiences of Black, Indigenous, (im)migrant, and other people of color, not to talk over them.
We provide these resources as an attempt at truth-telling and parsing out the racism embedded in each of the systems to which we are participants. We know that when we better understand the origins and intrinsic biases that accompany the foundation of everything from our workplaces to our municipal services, we are better equipped to combat modern racism.
We are acutely aware that there is no material wealth in this nation that can’t be linked to the discrepancy between who was allowed to own property and who was seen as property in the country’s foundation. We know that none of our dollars, opportunities, or resources exist outside of generations of inequity. Thus, we believe we have a duty to commit our time, money, and labor to repairing the massive cavity created by covert (and overt) racism toward Black, Indigenous, and (im)migrant people over the past 400 years.
We get it wrong all the time and when we do, we know there is value in sharing our shortcomings openly. We know it is important to display ourselves with radical honesty, even when that means we risk looking bad. Our flaws could be someone else’s opportunity to redirect their own behavior. We want to be challenged, even when it could be embarrassing or unpleasant, because we know that this work is bigger than our feelings, good intentions, or ego.
Our entire purpose is to lay the foundation within our small corners of the world for increased safety, resources, and access for people who have historically been pushed to the margins. We are here to sweep a clearer path to policies (in our jobs, schools, governments, religious spaces, etc.) that meet all of our needs. The world we’re building inherently considers the needs of all of us. In the meantime, however, we are responsive to the damage created by racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, sexism, and xenophobia. We prioritize communities harmed by these inequities first.
Our antiracism has to be sustainable, engaging, and generative if we want to move the needle towards justice (in ourselves, in our communities, and in the broader world). Thus, we know that sometimes we need to rest. That doesn’t mean we opt out, that means we self-sustain. We’re in this for the long haul. We hope you are, too.
This week, we are encouraging our readers to read through this list of values and determine your own. Norm up around what is important to you. Make your own action plan for implementing those values.
Every week in this newsletter, we try to create opportunities for honest, truth-telling conversations about racism: the ways we’ve enabled it, the ways we can interrupt it, and the ways it reproduces itself under the cloaks of “professionalism,” “manners,” and overall social norms, while still focusing on solutions rather than shame. We try to center the needs, experiences, and perspectives of Black and Indigenous and (Im)migrant people, but we also speak from a very white lens. We are always seeking feedback, always trying to learn ourselves, and always willing to have future conversations about the ways this material might surface different emotions for our readers.That’s why we started doing this: as white people, we realized many of us were initially interested in conversations about race and racism but only until our own complicity in whiteness was called into question. Then, we would up and decide that someone else was “being too sensitive” or burden our friends who were experiencing racism with our own need for validation. We’ve been the white folks who have turned away once the conversations brought up a difficult emotion for us, and we can see the ways that opting out has harmed our internal understanding of race and our external expression related to it. We write this because we want to create an open space for doing better, and because we hope that by sharing the times when we have missed the mark, we can all learn something.
Going into this year, we’re applying our aforementioned values to everything we put out. We plan to send systems-level analyses at the beginnings of the week and less-popular history lessons at the ends of the week. We’ll have monthly dialogues and monthly speakers (meaning, we’ll congregate on zoom at least twice a month). On social media, we’ll be emphasizing our weekly non-financial ways to take action and building our catalog of call scripts, political actions, and talking points.
We’ve got enough headlines and think-pieces heading into the weekend, but in case you want one unsolicited rec this weekend, here’s Clint Smith III’s piece on of how one photo sums up the whole story.
Ellie, Emily, and Hayden