We have got to stop talking about racism as if it’s something that everybody else is doing except for the one talking. Everybody has a part of the problem; and that means you, too, reader. You don’t have to be a slave master to perpetuate slavery. That means me, too. Like you, I am not exempt from being a part of “the problem,” from perpetuating “the racial disparities,” from carrying the torch of white supremacy. I don’t get a pass because I write about it. We’ve been writing about this for decades – speaking in general for decades; but our issues are made of specific instances of the choices of individuals – you and me. And habitually, we mislabel the symptoms of those choices as the root of those choices.
Real and covert racism flows from a place that we don’t want to look.
We gotta get deeper than this surface-level-pin-the-tail-on-the-racism game. We gotta get real. We gotta get accountable. Our habit is to turn away from realness because the truth can hurt; and as I’ve said in my Deeper Conflict Resolution trainings, when we do that, when we try to defend our way out of accountability, we proudly display an explicit bias toward fakeness – toward barriers to our goals.
Think about it. How long have we been talking about racism in Madison? And … has it gotten any better? I mean, I know we’re not experiencing chattel slavery anymore; and even though Miss Milele can remember segregation laws, at least it’s a memory, right? Still, far too often, we find ourselves having the same conversations about “the disparities” in general, and about “racism” in general; and what we tend to have to show for it is nothing but more to proudly converse.
What happened to that shiny new racism eliminator doohickey that was gonna make a HUGE dent in “the problem”? Is it just hard at work actually changing things behind the scenes while we continue to see the effects of discrimination, oppression, and implicit bias (often code for white supremacist sexist patriarchal racist capitalistic violence)? Well, yeah…until my 5 a.m. alarm goes off and it’s time to wake up into the “real” world, where our solutions to “the problem” are carried out to perpetuate “the problem” – leading to the status quo we so familiarly rehearse.
This is the world where we sing the same sad song about this phantom issue that no one can find blame for, where usually well-meaning people (often perpetrators) get together to decide how to help those other people; and those other people don’t get a real say in what help looks like but should, of course, be ever grateful. This is where the lead roles pay colorful puppets to dance to their tune in “honor” of those doing the real work in the streets unpaid. This is where we do just enough to “get uncomfortable” in the most comforting manner possible; and should anyone stand to challenge that cozy “discomfort,” they become the problem. In the world of the 501(c)3, it is a sick tendency – an explicit bias toward non-profit fakeness.
I mean, how you gonna eliminate racism all racist like?
We are addicted to the emotional drug whose consumption sometimes leaves behind the residue of racism. I’m talking about your pride. I’m talking about your nobility paradox. I’m talking about your need to feel like you are approvable. I’m talking about your invisible insides that run unchecked and force you to comply with the maze of racism. I’m talking about your privilege. You are an addict, dear reader, and when a truth teller stands in the way of your fix, they become your arch nemesis. But truly, YOU are the phantom menace. You are addicted to your part in this status quo and THAT is why it survives and thrives. Search yourself.
This is an intervention.
“Racism in Madison isn’t some abstract LSD experience. It’s playing out right in front of us and everyone reading this is a part of the play. This is where the lead roles pay colorful puppets to dance to their tune in ‘honor’ of those doing the real work in the streets unpaid. This is where we do just enough to ‘get uncomfortable’ in the most comforting manner possible; and should anyone stand to challenge that cozy “discomfort,” they become the problem. In the world of the 501(c)3, it is a sick tendency – an explicit bias toward non-profit fakeness.”
Racism in Madison isn’t some abstract LSD experience. It’s playing out right in front of us and everyone reading this is a part of the play. Yes, if you’re reading this, it is likely that in some way, you perpetuate racism. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all people reading this are racists, but when you generalize racism that you see happening and you don’t do what you can about it, then you become racism’s trusted and faithful ally – its shelter in plain sight. When you ignore the most impacted for the sake of your plan and then compete with folks on the ground doing the real work, you don’t do it better, you make it worse. When people of color suffer through the impacts of your ignorance, yes, you are racist. And when you ward off the awareness of that ignorance, you demonstrate your explicit bias toward this fake world where we just can’t quite pinpoint that racism but are “doing a damn good job fighting it.”
You’re living in a dream world, Neo.
If you think that we are good to go in our solutions, then you have pledged allegiance to a dangerous game in this matrix. You make way for racism and sleepwalk into its arms. You are explicitly biased, and it’s time to wake up. It’s time to wake up those around you. It’s time to be explicitly specified in how we address actual instances of our racism. It’s time to stop hiding and to stop letting others hide.
“Well, let’s not go too far, Eric. We can’t shake things up too much. You know I gotta pay my bills. Remember, relationships are important. We have to be strategic.”
Well, then welcome to strategic slavery; because that’s all your “strategy” has yielded and that kind of relationship is not for me. Strategy has become a cover for cowardice deserting silence where the few that realize we either move forward or die are left for the curtain call; and your strategic ass is left that much further away from real change. And maybe deep down, that’s what you subconsciously wanted – your fix in this status quo.
See, this is how we systematically disempower real change makers. And it’s not like you haven’t seen this happening. Don’t kid yourself into thinking the mission or program title was enough. Don’t explain away that “potentially” racist moment. Y’all act like this is some kind of blindfolded sniffing contest. Use your eyes, look around, listen. Listen to each other. Our system is inherently designed to foster competition where there should be collaboration – to praise confident ignorance where there should be humble guidance. But there may be hope for us yet.
It’s being called The Council of Communities – a process of collective impact and weighted direct democracy that’s gaining support from city and county officials, Madison leaders and nearly 50 organizations that are ready to divorce our cyclically self-sabotaging norm. From the strategic minds at Opportunity Inc. and the Young Gifted and Black Coalition, the system uses deep community engagement that brings the decision-making table to the expertise of those most impacted while serving as a platform for collaborators to work together toward actualizing that expertise. Using worldwide examples and building this as a community, we stand to create a standard for other communities that meaningfully elevates the voice of those most impacted to achieve real and lasting solutions.
If you’re going to keep talking about it – and you know you are – then join THIS kind of conversation.
Stay real. Stay powerful. Stay together.
Eric S. Upchurch II