Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: Racial justice: Where do we go from here?

Some time ago, an acquaintance invited me to become a regular contributor to a regional publication, then added, “You could write about race.” My immediate response was, “I will not be doing that.” To her credit, she understood my reluctance to be limited to writing about race simply because I am Black.
In the past few months, this interchange keeps coming to mind because of the increased focus on Black and Brown people’s perspectives — by news, entertainment, businesses, organizations and other areas of society that historically have ignored our voices. Our viewpoints are sought because the topic is race.
Decades ago, “Whites Only” signs posted in public places were blatant reminders of white privilege. Those signs are no longer displayed in 2020, but practices that marginalize Black and Brown people remain. These are often hidden behind assumptions about culture, class or education.
When I was hired as a faculty member in a Vermont college, I quickly realized that despite years of teaching and administrative experience, my views were seen as less valuable because they were embodied in me, a Black woman. Colleagues expected me to hold social and political views that represented a recognizable “Black” perspective. Such expectations hindered my full participation in the work of the college and deprived the institution of the range of skills and creativity I could offer. 
The year 2020 has seen much upheaval, including a pandemic and protests against racist violence. It is a hopeful sign that multi-racial, multi-generational groups are challenging institutionalized racism, demanding change and working toward solutions. I appreciate that individuals publicly acknowledge and apologize for anti-Black racism. It’s wonderful to see businesses and organizations depict dark-skinned people as employees and customers when they hadn’t done so before.
Has this heightened attention led to real change in the day-to-day operations of these entities or in the ways that community members work together? When it comes to making decisions about quotidian yet essential issues, such as the environment, school budgets, healthcare, and local governance, are Black and Brown people’s perspectives taken seriously? When national and global protests stop — as they will eventually — will our voices once again be relegated to the margins because dialogues are no longer about race?
Ruth Farmer is a published essayist and poet. She is sole owner of Farmer Writing and Editing (www.ruthfarmer.com).

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