Top 5 contributions Antiracism offers the Immigrant Rights and Immigrant Integration movements

For the last year, Crossroads colleagues at ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) in Kalamazoo, MI have been intentionally working with folks in the immigrants rights and immigrant integration movements. From this collaboration come these five insights regarding the contribution antiracism offers these movements.

1. The antiracism analysis goes beyond the Black/White binary and aims to build multi-racial coalitions.

Conversations about race and racism in the U.S. are often dichotomous, inclusive only of White dominant and African-American cultural values. An antiracism lens invites those of us who work to welcome immigrants to understand the ways in which all immigrants become racialized when they arrive here according to the U.S. race construct. There are typically six racial groups in the U.S. – Arab, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino, Native American, African American, and White. Immigrants may or may not understand how they are viewed in the U.S. compared to in their home country, but there are very real ways in which their race affects how they are treated and how much access they get to institutions and the resources necessary for life. An antiracism analysis also reminds many of us that we are not all immigrants, which you often hear within the immigrant rights and integration movement. The founding of the U.S. began with the genocide of Native Indian peoples who originally lived on this land. What’s more, there have been economic and political strategies throughout history that have been designed to steal land and resources from and invisiblize Indian people and Indian country.

2Antiracism teaches White people, including White immigrant allies and advocates, that racism is not about blame.

None of us were around when racism was established in this country over 500 years ago. Many conversations about race and racism go badly because we aren’t taught how to have productive dialogue about these often-painful topics. We need a common language, more complete awareness of history, and an understanding that racism isn’t any one person’s fault (at least not anyone living today). And yet we are all responsible for the dismantling of it. Racism dehumanizes us all and antiracism helps White people as well as People of Color find their self-interest in the work. This analysis can help White U.S.-born immigrant advocates and allies approach their work from a place of solidarity with immigrants and other People of Color instead of paternalism (wanting to “help, fix, and save” immigrants). It also reminds us that racism is more than just individual race prejudice. We must also examine how U.S. systems and institutions were built for White people, by White people, and in large part continue to serve White society better. Instead of focusing narrowly on a particular person’s attitudes and actions about different racial groups, antiracism asks the question: how is a particular White dominant culture value, practice, policy, or law working to maintain the supremacy of Whiteness?

3. Antiracism work is collaborative and always informed by/centered around anti-oppressive values.

Antiracism move us from the White dominant culture values like scarcity, either/or thinking, individualism/competition, and secrecy toward the antiracist/anti-oppressive values like an abundant worldview, both/and thinking, collective action, and transparency. Further, antiracism seeks to dismantle the silo-ing of and competition among social justice movements (aka the “Oppression Olympics”), which has been established through the divide and conquer strategies of our colonial and neo-colonial history.  What if oppressed groups starting working together – sharing knowledge, wisdom, resources, and tools? What if we all knew there is enough to go around and that we truly are stronger together? What if as resisters of oppression we began working cooperatively to co-create a country that welcomes and celebrates all?

4. Antiracism builds upon intersectionality – the understanding that we all have multiple identities.

Antiracism understands that racism is a system of oppression linked to other systems of oppression that robs each of us of our full humanity and impairs our ability to create just and sustainable community with one another both locally and globally. Racism is not the only “ism” and antiracism doesn’t ask us to drop our other identities in order to talk about race and racism. We can use our other experience around privilege and/or oppression as a window, not a wall. While it isn’t helpful to talk exclusively about racism, it is important to talk explicitly about racism. We must ask: how is race compounding upon all other identities (such as national origin and immigration status)?

5. Antiracism sees immigrant rights and immigrant integration (or welcome work) as resistance to oppression and offers a way of changing systems that have historically kept immigrants from being able to successfully integrate into their adopted hometowns.

The focus on creating welcoming receiving communities is approachable by many and can lead into deeper conversations of what it truly means to be welcoming — both in terms of individual and collective attitudes and actions AND how institutions are or aren’t effectively serving immigrants and why. Addressing national origin, culture, language, race, and documentation status-based prejudice is important and antiracism invites us to go deeper and address how immigrants experience systems and institutions (i.e.: hospitals and schools).  Doing the work of building welcoming communities is in itself an act of resistance to the historic realities of racism’s systemic and structural oppression.

Attitude or bias changing work is important and can be life-altering for both immigrants and U.S-born residents. And yet antiracism would posit that prejudice-reducing work can sometimes be masked as immigrant integration work. A school or local municipality can pass a “welcoming resolution” or proclamation, claiming to be a welcoming place to immigrants, but not actually become accountable to what that means on real and tangible levels. For example, how does a documented or undocumented farmworker from Guatemala or a Sudanese refugee experience a hospital or school or city hall when they walk through the door? In addition to changing receiving community members’ hearts and minds about immigrants (i.e.: help people see immigrants as contributors rather than “drainers”), we need an antiracism analysis grounded in the historical context of race and racism in the U.S. These two forms of resistance together can create a more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming country. 

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About the writers:

Lillie Wolff is one of two Co-Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality) and a Core Organizer/Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training. Prior to working with ERAC/Ce and Crossroads, Lillie spent seven years organizing around farmworker and immigrant rights and inclusion. Lillie is passionate about the intersections of social justice, ecological justice, and art, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art, and Natural Design (ISLAND) since 2009. She earned a BA in Human Development and Social Relations from Kalamazoo College in 2004. Lillie enjoys dancing, biking, gardening, spending time in nature, and preparing and eating communal meals with her wonderful anti-oppressive community.

Jo Ann Mundy is one of two co- Executive Directors of ERAC/Ce (Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality), and a Core Organizer-Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, a national partner working collaboratively with ERAC/Ce toward the institutionalization of racial justice in public and private institutions throughout southwest Michigan. Currently Jo Ann serves on the boards of Crossroads and the People’s Food Coop. As a founder mentor of the NIA Project, Jo Ann encourages the celebration of identity, purpose and sisterhood in adolescent women of color. Additionally, Jo Ann is a founding member of the Three Rivers Area Faith Community (TRAFC), an ecumenical faith-based social justice network of churches striving to build a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-generational anti-racist faith community in Three Rivers, MI where she completed her doctoral thesis Sacred Actions to Bring Racial Reconciliation. Enjoying over 25 years of pastoral ministry, Jo Ann currently serves as pastor of On Common Ground of Three Rivers Michigan. Jo Ann enjoys reading, music, her guitars and computers and, most of all, the young people in her life.

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Four ways the Black/White Binary ought to concern White People

This spring in Applying the Analysis, many of our colleagues of color have written poignantly about the impact and implications of the Black/White Binary. They have clearly delineated how the Black/White Binary functions as a divide and conquer strategy among communities of color, how it keeps People of Color from fully understanding each other’s histories, and ultimately how it keeps People of Color from battling the true common enemy of White Supremacy. To continue the conversation, we want to examine the issue of the Black/White Binary from the perspective of those of us who identify as White, how we continue to reap the benefits of a society built on a foundation of White Supremacy, and what we might do to begin to disrupt the Black/White Binary in our own circles.

1. The Black/White Binary Maintains White Supremacy and Unearned Power and Privilege

The true power of the Black/White binary is that it functions to support White Supremacy in our society and institutions.  That is its function and aim, and it has a very successful track record. While White Supremacy remains unexamined, White people continue to reap economic, material, psychological and social benefits we have gleaned for centuries. The Black/White binary’s divide and conquer dynamic among People of Color allows White People to continue to retain and expand societal benefits while People of Color fight over the scraps that fall of the White Supremacy table.  Our goal then as White People is to constantly be aware of how White Supremacy is supported by the Black/White Binary.  If White People truly want to disrupt the historical patterns of White Supremacy, we have to diligently reject the false logic of the Black/White Binary.

Take for instance, Joy’s experience growing up White in North Dakota. The narrative around race in North Dakota at the time, and likely still today, was that “racism” occured when White People mistreat Black people. Because there were so few Black people in North Dakota (the reasons for which could constitute another blog post), North Dakota did not have a problem with racism. The fallacy of the Black/White binary allowed North Dakotans to believe that they had didn’t have to deal with racism because of the small Black population of the state. Consequently, Joy and other North Dakotans could virtually ignore over a hundred years of theft, genocide, and disposition of American Indians. That issue was not even on the radar, even though the predominantly White, Scandinavian and German descendants of the European colonizers, continue to reap the benefits of lands seized under policies like the Dawes and Homestead Acts. Joy and her family continue to financially benefit from the land her ancestors had access to through homesteading, which was only available to White people. This adherence to a a Black/White binary around what constitutes racism maintains unexamined White supremacy and the benefits that come with it.

2. The Black/White binary’s historical myth allows us to deny that our entire society is affected by racism.

As White people growing up in the United States, our framework for understanding what little we do about race is often framed only by Blackness. White people, culture and history are considered normal, whereas Black people, culture, and history are viewed as “racial” and at the other end of a spectrum. This narrative leaves us no room to understand the racial implication of the genocide of millions of Native Americans and the theft of their lands and resources, the exploitation of Asian American labor in agricultural and industrial projects (e.g. the building of the transcontinental railroad), the robbery of lands that once belonged to Mexico and the subsequent mistreatment of the inhabitants of those lands and their descendants, nor our colonial and neo-colonial exploits in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Asia, and other locations around the world. Even the history and experience of Black people is distorted by this simplistic rendering of history.

For example, when Ryan reflects on what he learned about race and racism in his formal education, it went something like this: Once upon a time a group of Europeans fled oppression and moved to a vast, unoccupied continent to create a free society. Some of those Europeans were bad and enslaved Black people, but this was solved by Abraham Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation.” Some of those same bad white people, however, continued to mistreat Black people by creating “Jim Crow” laws, but this was eventually stopped by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. Now we live in a post racial society where even a Black man can become president. This obviously simplistic and incomplete understanding of race seen through the Black/White binary allows White people to be oblivious to other People of Color’s histories, and to avoid owning our part in the damage that our actions have done both in the past and present. It absolves us of having to work to fix or repair the carnage our ancestors left in their wake because we are ignorant of its very existence. We can even use the myth of the Black/White binary to deny the actual experience of Black people by turning it into something much more simplistic and trite rather than the complex reality that it is.

3. The Black/White Binary keeps us from working against our own dehumanization.

White people are also dehumanized by racism, and the Black/White binary hides this reality. The binary is a simplistic paradigm based on either/ or; good/ bad; wrong/ right; winner/ loser. Instead of recognizing we all regain our humanity and community if White supremacy is dismantled, the Black/White Binary with its either/or logic has White people fearing that if racism is eliminated we lose. We fear that we will lose our privileges and that Black people will oppress us once they are on the top. Take, for example, the recent claims by many White people of “reverse racism.” In these complaints we hear a deep fear of being on the bottom, because, in our heart of hearts, we know that we have created an “either/or” world and that we do not want to lose our position. What a powerful disincentive to work for justice, and those of us working for a more racially equitable society need to combat this falsehood wherever possible.

Moreover, the Black/White binary doesn’t leave room for the full diversity of humankind and thus doesn’t allow for healthy, resilient community. In his blog post, James’ Addington discusses how living in a diverse, interconnected community actually provides strength and resilience for all participants, whether they be humans or micro-organisms. The Black/White binary, however, creates a system in which instead of living in meaningful community, the set-up places White people in the role of oppressors who exploit others for our own gain. This causes broken relationships and isolation which goes against our human need for belonging and connection. Instead of being part of a differentiated, rich community life, we participate in our own dehumanization by robbing from others and weakening the very fabric that should exist to support all people, including ourselves.

4. The Black/White Binary keeps us from standing in solidarity with all People of Color to end racism.

If we don’t understand how we are all harmed by racism, White people will not be able to stand in solidarity with all People of Color to eliminate racism. How many times have we as White people been ignorant of not only our own racialized experiences and histories but also those of the various People of Color groups we seek to partner with? Moreover, remaining stuck in the Black/White binary could tempt us to try and help, save and fix Black people who we perceive to be the sole objects of racial oppression. We can also be tempted to use other People of Color group stereotypes to set some sort of imaginary standard for Black people and how they should comport themselves (See Laura Mariko Cheifetz’s blog on the Black/White Binary and the Model Minority Myth).

Another way we fail to stand in solidarity occurs when we observe the Black/White binary causing a division between Communities of Color and we simply back away and distance ourselves. We throw our hands up and say, “this is a People of Color problem, let them fight amongst themselves.” For example, as Antiracist White people we sometimes have the problematic notion that in order to be accountable to POC we have to listen to, follow and do whatever People of Color say. If the binary has them fighting with one another, however, we may find ourselves in a situation where we do not know who to follow or agree with. In this situation we may be tempted to take sides and align ourselves with one People of Color group as truly being more oppressed (or more to our individual liking). We need to be accountable to an analysis of racism that challenges the Black/White binary and includes all our histories and perspectives. Then accountability and solidarity doesn’t become about aligning ourselves with individual People of Color who we personally like the best.

Moving Forward

For those of us who identify as White and want to engage in the work of dismantling systemic racism we must heed the clarion call of our Colleagues of Color to continually push ourselves past the Black/White Binary. We must see the totality of racism and how we continue to benefit from it.  We need to hear the stolen stories, listen to People of Color from all racialized groups, be accountable to and stand in solidarity with a rich, complex analysis of racism that includes all People of Color (as well as ourselves!), and relentlessly work on our own internal transformation and that of our institutions. Antiracist White People need to be able to name the binary playing out when we see it and be proactive in disrupting it.

If this series of blogs has sparked your interest about understanding and interrupting the Black/White binary, we invite you to join us at Crossroads Leadership and Development Institute this summer in Chicago where we will continue to explore the construct of the Black/White binary and how we can continue to organize to transform our institutions into more racially just organizations.

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ABOUT THE WRITERS

Joy and Ryan Baiey

Joy and Ryan Baiey

Joy Bailey has been the Director of Organizing and Training for Crossroads since 2011 and has been a Core/Organizer Trainer since 2008. She has her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish Education and her Master’s in Socio-cultural Studies in Education, both from Western Michigan University (WMU). Formerly, Joy taught high school Spanish for six years in Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) and also taught courses on race and racism in education at WMU. Joy has been doing local antiracism organizing in Kalamazoo Public Schools since 2001. Although originally from North Dakota, Joy currently lives with her spouse in Chicago, IL.

Ryan Bailey received his BA in English Education from Western Michigan University, his MA in Educational Leadership from Michigan State, and is a Nationally Board Certified teacher. He has participated in a variety of professional educational experiences including a Fulbright-Hayes exchange to Senegal and presentations to the National Council of Teacher’s of English. Ryan’s antiracism development began and continues within the context of the organizing work of Crossroads and ERAC/CE. An avid home-brewer, vintner, writer, reader, outdoors man, cook, traveler, and tennis player, Ryan makes his home in Chicago, IL with his partner Joy.

Reclaiming King’s Organizing Formula by the Rev. Michael Russell

Michael Russell is the pastor of the Jubilee Faith Community of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in Country Club Hills, IL. Prior to that he did community organizing with Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc in Chicago’s West Englewood community. He is also an antiracism trainer and organizer with Crossroads Antiracism Organzing and Training.  Currently, Michael is vice president of SOUL, a grassroots coalition of faith based organizations focused on economic justice, leadership training and political responsibility in Chicago’s Southland.

Michael Russell is the pastor of the Jubilee Faith Community of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in Country Club Hills, IL. Prior to that he did community organizing with Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc in Chicago’s West Englewood community. He is also an antiracism trainer and organizer with Crossroads Antiracism Organzing and Training. Michael is also vice president of SOUL, a grassroots coalition of faith based organizations focused on economic justice, leadership training and political responsibility in Chicago’s Southland.

As Black history month approaches its final week, I continued to be reminded of the grip racism and white supremacy have on this nation.  From the failure of a Florida jury to find Michael Dunn guilty of his unjustifiable murder of Jordan Davis to Ted Nugent’s racist rant about the President of the United States, the evidence that we are not in a post racial or colorblind nation is undeniable.  Just a month ago the nation was commemorating the birth and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in parades, interfaith services, community actions, and days of service but as I reflect upon the daily carnage of people of color lives lost and dehumanized in defense of white supremacy, I want to breathe new life and energy into Dr. King’s message and work for radical social transformation.

King believed racism and economic oppression were cancers invading and destroying the soul of the United States. He worked to spread a message and organized to share a non-violent methodology because he believed that people working together for a common purpose had the power to excise these malignancies from our society and because he wanted to agitate for geo-political and socio-economic change. As a Baptist minister King preached against social messages, which sought to dehumanize African-Americans.  Theologically and ethically, King held onto the conviction that God did not tolerate the sin of racism and stood on the side of those who struggle to bring dignity to all life. He appealed to the moral center of individuals and society because wanted them to understand that [t]he racial issue that we confront in America is not a sectional but a national problem. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Therefore, no American can afford to be apathetic about the problem of racial justice. It is a problem that meets every man [sic] at his front door.”[1]  King gave his life to organize a movement aimed at securing human and civil rights for People of Color in the United States because he knew that at stake was the very soul of this nation.

King’s formula for change is strikingly simple: Message + Methodology + Momentum (movement) = sociopolitical change. One example of the application of this formula was the Montgomery bus boycott.  The leaders of the civil rights movement were clear that racism was dehumanizing and denying basic human and civil rights to a part of this nation’s citizenry. They understood that racism had also socialized the African-American citizens of Montgomery to cooperate with and finance their own dehumanization through oppression, intimidation, and terrorism.

Recognizing that liberation of African-Americans in Montgomery, AL would require divestment from the infrastructure of the city, a bus boycott was planned.  Preparations were made to provide alternative modes of transportation.  Meetings were held to prepare the community for the pressure they would experience.  Then Rosa Parks, a 42-year old African-American woman trained in non-violent organizing at the Highlander Folk School, boarded a bus paid full fare for her ticket and refused to relinquish her seat defying the bus company’s rule that required a black person give up their seat to any white person upon request and move to the ‘blacks only’ section at the back of the bus.

For this act of civil disobedience, Parks was arrested; an event that catalyzed the community’s support for the boycott.  For more than a year, they inspired one another to resist and persevere through even the most violent tactics employed by local police, vigilantes, and the Montgomery business community.  The resisters remained committed to their message, and methodology boycotting the buses and businesses that participated in discriminatory practices.  They imposed grass-roots community based economic sanctions on their institutional oppressors.  These sanctions weakened the economic foundation that sustained that particular racist system and raised the consciousness of a nation to the need for the elimination of Jim Crow practices.

Right now we endure the continued exploitation of people of color who are used as human fuel for corporate economic engines, including United States militarization, criminalization and incarceration.  Our nation along with the global community is being torn asunder by economic policies that increase the gap between the “haves and have-nots,” governmental and social disregard for the human rights of its most vulnerable citizens, a growing environmental degradation crisis, hegemonic wars, and the devaluation of all life, Dr. King’s words ring prophetic and his wisdom timely.  As we organize to dismantle all forms of systemic and institutional oppression, our call is to struggle against the commercialization and dilution of the movement Dr. King helped birth.  We must accept his challenge, rally the resistance, modernize the methodology, and live into his legacy by organizing and working together until the dream is made real for us all.

Racism is alive and well in 2014.  Systems of oppression continue to morph into new constructs that marginalize and dehumanize us all.  Giving up is not an option.  Let us honor those whose lives and dreams have been cut short by racism by renewing our commitment to work across all lines of difference for a world and nation in which all people thrive.  As we conclude this years observance of Black history month let us not forget to that a true celebration and commemoration of Dr. King and the men and women with whom he labored in the civil rights movement demands that we work without ceasing to ensure human rights and civil rights are afforded to all.

[1] This quote comes from “The Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness,” Address at the Golden Anniversary Conference of the National Urban League delivered in New York City on September 6th, 1960.  For a full text of the speech follow this link: http://mlkkpp01.stanford.edu/primarydocuments/Vol5/6Sept1960_TheRisingTideofRacialConsciousnessAddressattheGold.pdf

Toni Cade Bambara’s The Golden Bandit

Toni Cade Bambara

Toni Cade Bambara

Toni Cade Bambara was a writer, activist, feminist, and filmmaker who gifted the struggle for civil and human rights with incisive words, powerful images, and opportunities for laughter.  Among her many contributions to the world of arts and literature is an anthology of non-fiction, fiction, and poetry, entitled The Black Woman which was the first major feminist anthology featuring work by Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall, and others.  One of Toni Cade Bambara’s most beloved stories, The Golden Bandit, was published the year of her death in an edited volume titled Jump Up and Say! A Collection of Black Storytelling and it is a retelling of the children’s story Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Bambara’s ability to use this classic children’s story to offer a critique of White privilege and White supremacy is fun and a reminder of her gifts, which were lost too soon when she succumb to cancer in 1995.

This past summer Debra Russell, Crossroads’ Director of Management and Resources, lead the participants of Crossroads annual gathering in an interactive reading of Bambara’s sharp retelling of the children’s classic.  As Crossroads  continues to remember voices often forgotten in the celebration of Black History month, we share this reading of Bambara’s Golden Bandit.

Exploring the intersections between Systemic Racism and Food Justice

The Rev. Dr. B. JoAnn Mundy is executive co-director of Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality (ERAC/CE) in Kalamazoo, MI (which is a Crossroads regional partner) and a core organizer and trainer with Crossroads. Jo Ann was recently interviewed by Chris Mills, a reporter for WOOD TV8 in Grand Rapids, MI  about ERAC/CE’s work in the intersection between food justice and systemic racism. This short clip contains excerpts from the interview in which Jo Ann reminds us, “Every community has the right to determine from where their food comes, what they are gong to eat and how they are going to eat it.”

The Power of Our Shared Stories

Crossroads community gathers each summer at an Advanced Organizers Training to exchange ideas, to learn about new developments in Crossroads’ power analysis and methodology, and to build relationships. In 2013, Crossroads asked some members of its community to prepare 5-10 minute talks in the style of Ignite Talks. Crossroads core organizer and trainer, the Rev. Michael Russell shared this powerful talk about the power of the shared stories of People of Color in the United States. Watch this video and be inspired.

The Rev. Michael Russell is the pastor of the Jubilee Faith Community of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in Country Club Hills, IL. Prior to that he did community organizing with Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc in Chicago’s West Englewood community. Michael has a Masters of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and has completed post graduate studies at the Keller Graduate School of Business Management in Chicago IL. Michael is also an antiracism trainer and organizer with Crossroads. He co-authored “Lazarus at the Gate: Writings and Reflections on Poverty and Wealth,” a resource of the ELCA Poverty Ministries Networking program unit for Church in Society. He currently is vice president of SOUL, a grassroots coalition of faith based organizations focused on economic justice, leadership training and political responsibility in Chicago’s Southland. Most importantly though, he is a child of God, partner of Debra, father to Justin, Chandra, and Evan, and grandfather to Gabriel. They are inspiration for his antiracism work.