I stand with Rachel
To the Editor:
Recently, our elected District Attorney, Rachel Rollins, used her platform to demand systemic action in response to the newest wave of police brutality. Predictably, she was met with condemnation from the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (BPPA), who said it was her words, not the actions of their constituents, that incited violence between police and protesters in the days after her remarks. BPPA’s statement also defended the “best trained officers in the nation”, taking issue that they were grouped in with the term “murderers”. Rollins’ response: “White fragility is real people.”
Here’s why the BPPA’s response was predictable and why we must change the dialogue if we want a new outcome. In her book, White Fragility, Robin Diangelo explains, “We (white folks – like me) consider a challenge to our racial worldviews as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as an unsettling and moral offense.” Nobody wants to be called a murderer – but what’s at play, and what Rachel is referring to – is much deeper and more insidious. Simply put, we all invest in a system that serves us. We do so sometimes without empathy for those it doesn’t serve. By now it should be clear: our culture, inclusive of our policing practices, does not serve people of color. And boy did the BPPA take offense. But it’s not about them, it’s about us. Here’s what I’m learning about how to change the dialogue:
When Rachel said what she said, she spoke from a perspective I as a white person cannot have: she exists in a system that does not serve her or people who look like her. But I exist in that same system. I was raised in it. Racism is not a feeling we necessarily choose to carry; it is the culture we all have been born into. Culture is comprised of systems and norms that become unconsciously accepted over time. To an extent, Diangelo explains, we have no say in how we are affected by it. This is why and how we all carry unconscious bias: it is embedded in our lives in ways we as individuals cannot control. Its why “experts” teach that our work is not to eliminate our bias but be more conscious of its existence. We create more control over the things in our environment we don’t like when we notice them first. Taking action – such as participation in vigils, peaceful protests and the democratic process are effective tools of solidarity; they also allow us to bypass the prerequisite work of reckoning with the unconscious and prejudiced beliefs we carry when doing so. We must look inward to understand our own contribution to the system before we profess allyship to those who are oppressed by it.
And when good-intentioned people attack individual agents of prejudice, they send the message that it’s the people – not the system that must change. Diangelo explains “We are taught to think about racism only as discrete acts committed by individual people, rather than as a complex, interconnected system.” So, let’s be clear: Rachel Rollins was certainly not attacking individual officers; she was attacking the system they occupy – a system built and occupied by us and one responsible for the prejudiced actions we’ve seen on replay since the birth of our nation. If you are white and you are outraged by what you have witnessed, please do not attack the individuals for whom our broken system supports – attack the system itself. Help folks like the BPPA understand that it’s not about them; it’s about all of us. Rachel called for systemic change – which means action should be systemic. Look at local legislation, funding allocation, learn more about advocacy groups and seek to better understand the system built to benefit us – so that we know better how to fundamentally change it. Read. Ask. Listen. Act.
When my 3-year-old daughter asked why we stand with so many others holding signs, I explained to her that a man killed somebody and we are here to say that it’s not okay. Will this prevent my daughter from racial prejudice? Absolutely not. Because as long as people of color continue to be disproportionately killed by white hands (or knees), no discrete act committed by individuals – good or bad – will change the system that perpetuates the injustice we seek to upend.
John Berger, an art critic and poet once wrote that “the world is not intolerable until the possibility of transforming it exists but is denied.” I’m choosing to write this now because I believe transformation is still possible.
Here’s what I’m learning: I am white. I am the system. The system must change. I must change.
Thank you, Rachel, for showing all of us what bravery and truth-telling looks like. And know that I stand with you.
Boston Building Trades Unions:
We Fight for Black Lives, because
Black Lives Matter
To the Editor:
The recent heinous murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are unconscionable and unacceptable, and demonstrate, again, the brutal, institutionalized racism within our country that originates from many sources, including from the scourge of slavery.
We in the Labor Movement — a movement comprised of our multi-racial working class — are committed to destroying racism in all of its forms. We must look inward to acknowledge how our own biases and prejudices inform our actions, and how those actions affect those around us. And we must look outward, shoulder to shoulder with our sisters and brothers, and commit to working together to dismantle the systems of racism and oppression that have led to the deaths of so many black and brown people, that have kept working class people, here and around the world, from sharing in America’s economic prosperity, and that have glorified an unequal financial system that protects corporate greed and the super-wealthy above everyone and everything else.
We cannot fall prey to the hatred and divisiveness of President Trump, or any other white supremacist, or to anyone who will use this moment to confuse right from wrong. We must call out their attempts to play politics of division as they seek to retain power and protect a system that is disastrously broken.
Protecting this broken system will not help our working families, protesters or law enforcement, and it assures the perpetuation of conditions that lead to events like the murder of George Floyd. White supremacy and white nationalism must be called out and defeated in all its forms, whether on our own streets or at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
We in the Labor Movement know that we cannot achieve economic equality and true justice until we fully recognize that workers’ rights and civil rights are one and the same. We have inherited a history of hard-fought victories that have provided respect and dignity on and off the job for many, but we still have work to do.
Today and every day we commit to building the world that we know is possible, and to get there, we fight for black lives, because Black Lives Matter.
Boston Building Trades Unions