Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Elkhart cross burning investigated by FBI

Today GLA hosted the final dialogue conference call it its "Racism and. . ." series. During the call a YWCA staff member from Indiana shared information about a recent incident in Elkhart Indiana where a cross was burned on the front lawn of an interracial couple earlier this month. (If you follow the link, spend a few moments reading the comments posted there, which may provide a stark reality check about how the work to end racism is going.)

In reflecting on this particular incident, I am aware that it can be a challenge for racial justice advocates to find our way in this kind of situation. For the most part, our expertise is in helping community members "unpack their invisible knapsacks," moreso than taking on the KKK.

In a previous job, I worked for an organization called BRAVO (the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization), where I was one of 3 staff people who worked to respond to all kinds of violence in the lives of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people. Because we were a small staff, even though I coordinated the domestic violence program, answering the hotline was everyone's job. In an average year, we took approximately 200 calls from individuals who had been threatened or harmed where anti-lgbt bias was the only reason for the violence they experienced. During my time there, I attended trials and court hearings with the family members of drag queens who had been murdered, college students whose dorm rooms had been vandalized with anti-gay hate speech, and rural couples who came home to find death threats, dead pets, and other tangible evidence of purposeful intimidation from their neighbors.

When we stand up and declare that we are advocates for racial justice, it is important to acknowledge that this can mean a lot of different things. The skills and tools needed to ask the local news to stop unfairly depicting African Americans in its media coverage, or to train a group of teens to recognize hidden personal biases are different than the ones needed to comfort a family whose lives have been threatened and safety has been compromised. These skills are different still from the ones needed in order to push a state legislature to enact hate crimes legislation or enforce laws that are already on the books. We need to be clear about what kind of anti-racists we are. We need practical skills as advocates and interveners, and we need the courage to stand up to systems that have failed to protect us or members of our communities.

To take a positive step in this direction, try writing a sentence on a piece of paper that starts with "I will advocate for racial justice by. . . " and then fill in the blank. The things that are innate to you or to your organization will suggest the tools and skills that are needed to get there.

posted by rebecca

No comments: