What does it mean to be an anti-racist progressive organization?
This is a question we’ve wrestled with over recent weeks as members of the People’s Alliance board, which is a multiracial, cross-class coalition. The 2020 primary election has been fraught with racial tension. We have a school board election where critical representation is on the line. We also have allegations of racially biased remarks with the Board of County Commissioners, leaving many residents unsure of what to believe or how to move forward. Too often, these are our friends and coworkers involved, and it’s hard to discern how truth and politics coexist, especially when valuable relationships are entangled.
Recently, the PA PAC (a separate entity than our PA Board) issued a statement in support of Heidi Carter. While we appreciate the PAC’s commitment to the membership-endorsed candidate, a longtime public servant, we feel that such a statement was premature and have more thoughts to share on the subject. After all, it is possible for someone to be a great supporter of schools, and also operate from a foundation of white supremacy. In America, that is how whiteness works. We cannot confront, nor dismantle, the white supremacy we don’t acknowledge. We don’t yet have the full picture on the issues between the County Commissioners and County Manager. However, we do know that Monday’s County Commissioner meeting left Black Durham residents feeling discarded and harmed, building on trauma that residents of color have felt for many years. This is an example of how impact matters more than intent.
As an organization, we voted in 2017 to uphold anti-racist values as part of our vision for a "model progressive community", which includes "work[ing] to dismantle structural racism and other forms of oppression." For too long, the pain and prejudice felt by marginalized communities has been invisible in Durham. If we truly see ourselves as anti-racist organization, that cannot be acceptable. We must inform our actions with this understanding. At a minimum, this means supporting holistic investigations on any issue of racism. We must hold ourselves accountable to anti-racism, and expect our city and county leaders to do the same.
Too often, progressives minimize white supremacy or see it as something that ‘other’ people do. We commit as an organization to listen when people of color tell us our behavior is racist and work to change that behavior, rather than respond defensively. After all, racism is not simply hurt feelings. We implore all of Durham‘s residents to listen to one another. Election seasons can make this hard, but it is critical for forming community and moving away from a tendency to discount Black and Brown pain. These are broader issues than just this particular election.
In the meantime, we support and eagerly await the forthcoming investigation. We continue to listen. We continue to wrestle with how our own organization upholds white supremacy. We continue to learn what anti-racism looks like in action — even when it’s uncomfortable. We hope that as we do this, we live into the values our members voted on three years ago. We hope that when we ask folks to make PA their political home, we are creating a space that truly welcomes and affirms them. Our pursuit to win elections shouldn’t create more harm to people of color. We are grateful for the relationships we have developed with local leaders- elected or otherwise- and we believe that no one should be invisible or get thrown away.
Thank you to those who have trusted us so far. For those who don’t-- we understand, and we commit to learning, listening, and working to earn that trust one day.
The PA Board