YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
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December 2017

By Martha Barry, Racial Justice Director, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

Will You Be The Difference

The challenges facing our community and nation are huge. We are witnessing higher levels of unbridled hatred and outright bigotry. We are also witnessing courage and resistance.

Racism is out in the open, maybe not with fire hoses, but with demands of whites to not be ignored or treated as “second-class citizens.” Be aware: while white people need support to counter racist narratives, we also need to be mindful. If whiteness is at the center of a conversation on race, it may mean white people are feeling disregarded and disrespected. White people have feelings about racism, but we can’t let those painful emotions dictate our decisions or directions on addressing it.

Conversations on gendered racism are beginning to occur in wider circles. A study in 2015 of African American women found “more frequent experiences with gendered racism were associated with more depressive and anxiety symptoms. More frequent experiences of gendered racism were also associated with less optimal social relationships and poorer life satisfaction.” As racism is paired with issues of gender (or age, sexual orientation, class background, or geographic location) we will learn to put attention on the nuances of understanding race and racism in deeper ways.

And still, we are witnessing courage. The ”Me too” slogan was created by Tarana Burke, an African American woman, 10 years ago to raise awareness of sexual abuse. Alyssa Milano created #MeToo in the wake of accusations against Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Roy Moore and many others. The role of women, particularly of the global majority, cannot be dismissed in addressing issues of sexual harassment, abuse and assault. Deep-seated issues of race in our nation, ones that have historically been embedded in our consciousness and our policies and practices, are more challenging to uncover and address.

Challenging times call for thoughtful, respectful responses. How do we make sense of a world that appears to be coming unhinged? Our response cannot be to add to the chaos and mayhem. Thoughtful people must rise above the din and find their voices to interrupt hurtful, bigoted, racist, misogynistic words, behavior and actions. Will this be easy? Not necessarily. Is it important? Absolutely.

With the year-end holidays approaching, notice the conversations around you. Where do you need to be courageous? Who holds the “floor” and speaks authoritatively on issues of race and racism? If white voices dominate, be skeptical. Listen for the underlying or hidden meaning when race is not being discussed in white spaces. Race is often hidden in plain view when our community talks about employment, transportation, health care, housing, poverty, and criminal justice. Be willing to add how the impact of racist policies needs to be considered when discussing solutions.

The legacy of our nation’s structural racism requires our hearts and minds be engaged. If you are white, get out of your comfort zone. Shop in the Black, Latinx, Native and Asian community stores and restaurants. Read the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. Consider making a donation to the YWCA. You have an opportunity to make different decisions. Think. Decide. Act. Liberation requires our full engagement. Decide to be fully engaged.

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The 2038 Racial Justice Blog includes monthly insight from YWCA staff and community members working for a more just and equitable Milwaukee.   Learn more about our 2038 goal.