The police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and the mass shootings of police in Dallas have left grief, rage and fear in the hearts and minds of folks across the country and throughout our community. Like many, I’ve seen and heard the reactions to these tragic events on social media, in the news, on the radio and in conversation on the sidewalk. Like many, I’ve asked myself, “What can I do?” “What should I do?”
Among the social media posts and statements about the shootings, I came across an interview with Tim Wise, an anti-racism activist, author and educator, which aired on “Breaking Through,” produced by Kristen Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising.
In the interview, Wise spoke of the importance of building a movement for justice that keeps everyone safe — black and brown folks and police and all individuals — in a society where violence and injustice are far too prevalent. Critically, he suggests, white Americans (myself included) can stand up and help stop racism by confronting the legacy of white supremacy in American history and actively working to dismantle it. We also need to listen and take action.
When the interviewer pressed Wise about what this looks like, he described “stepping forward, stepping back.” For example, white folks can step forward in their communities, be it their classrooms, clubs or workplaces, and show up as leaders who are willing to challenge ourselves and other white folks around the issues of racism. On the other hand, we need to be able to step back and listen to black and brown folks about the strategies needed to bring down racism in our community.
Further, he goes on to say, we need to find and connect with organizations that are engaged in racial justice work, connect with and learn from them about the actions they suggest. Right here in Thurston County, we have numerous organizations actively engaged in anti-racism work — The Black Alliance of Thurston County, Full Circle United, Unity in the Community, SURJ (Standing Up For Racial Justice), The United Churches of Olympia and several more. The organization I am most connected with, YWCA Olympia, is also working to eliminate racism in order to bring about a community where all people are valued, live free from oppression and thrive. Recently, more than 100 folks in our community took the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism pledge, which I offer to you here:
“Mindful of the continuing affliction of institutional and structural racism as well as the daily realities of all forms of bias, prejudice and bigotry in my own life, my family, my circle of friends, my co-workers and the society in which I live, with conviction and hope, I take this pledge. Fully aware, the struggle to eliminate racism will not end with a mere pledge but calls for an ongoing transformation within myself and the institutions and structures of our society.
“I pledge to look deeply and continuously in my heart and in my mind to identify all signs and vestiges of racism; to rebuke the use of racist language and behavior toward others; to root out such racism in my daily life and in my encounters with persons I know and with strangers I do not know; and to expand my consciousness to be more aware and sensitive to my use of overt and subtle expressions of racism and racial stereotypes.
“I pledge to educate myself on racial justice issues and share what I learn in my own communities even if it means challenging my family, my partner, my children, my friends, my co-workers and those I encounter on a daily basis.
“I pledge, within my means, to actively work to support public policy solutions that prominently, openly and enthusiastically promote racial equity in all aspects of human affairs; and to actively support and devote my time to YWCA, as well as other organizations working to eradicate racism in our society.”
I invite you to take this pledge, to look deeply and continuously in your heart and in your mind with a humble commitment to ending racism and violence, recognizing that this work starts with ourselves.
Hillary Soens, CEO of YWCA Olympia, is a mother, a wife and a white woman learning how to be an anti-racist ally. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.