I am not African American. I do not want to occupy space that is not mine. But, I am someone in leadership at a social justice nonprofit. I do have a platform. And with it, I want to contribute my voice to the conversation. I want to further commit Eviction Defense Collaborative to this growing movement for racial justice. I want to directly address the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, and the ensuing movement for systemic change spreading across the nation.
Each moment of each day, I am aware of my whiteness. Even though I identify as Latina, I cannot deny the privilege with which I get to traverse our world.
I am mad.
I am scared.
I am horrified.
I am mournful.
Our work at Eviction Defense Collaborative is about housing justice, and we believe that housing is a human right. The current housing crisis in every city across the nation has only made more evident the deep historical roots of racial disenfranchisement and discrimination that are embedded in our country’s history. From day one in this country, property rights and the right to be housed has been guaranteed only to white people, and these property rights have always come before human rights.
The United States is now at a reckoning point and must face the brutal and shameful history of our country. It’s a history which began with the genocide of the original peoples of this land, and a history that is rooted in the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade — which kidnapped millions of human beings, enslaving them and their descendants in the Americas for centuries to come. This country profited off of what they grew and built. But African Americans had no right to the profits. When our country finally acknowledged their humanity, it was with no money in their pockets, no home to call their own, and no right to either. With practices such as redlining, the privatization of affordable housing, and racial discrimination in the private and public sectors, African Americans have been denied access to housing and denied the ability to prosper.
In 1968, President Johnson convened the Kerner Commission to study the impetus for the civil unrest in the United States. The Commission found that the United States was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” White racism was “essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II.” In other words:
“White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it,
and white society condones it.”
Armed with this information, rather than divert resources to address this systemic racism and its devastating impact, the United States instead made the strategic decision to…divert significant resources towards landing someone on the moon.
Fifty years later, in 2017, a separate study found that African Americans were worse off than they had been in 1968. Following the release of the study, the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission said the following:
We are resegregating our cities and our schools, condemning millions of kids to inferior education, and taking away their real possibility of getting out of poverty.
– Senator Fred Harris
And nothing has really changed since then. Except, now we are faced with a global pandemic that is impacting African Americans disproportionately. But, we can’t give up hope now. Change moves very slowly in this country; in fits and starts. We often take a few steps back before we can move forward. All of us at EDC are committed to fighting a system that was designed to disadvantage and exclude African Americans.
But that is not enough.
It is equally important that EDC look inward to ensure in everything we do, in every thing we say, in everyone who makes up EDC, we are part of the solution. I want to share with you the pledges EDC made to staff last week after finishing two racial equity workshops with the extraordinary Ericka Huggins of World Trust Organization:
- To every person of color at EDC, and in particular every person at EDC who identifies as Black:
EDC will continue to prioritize our diversity, equity, and inclusion work so that all community members know that they belong, are valued and respected. We will continue to examine and improve our written and our unwritten policies. We will continue to increase EDC’s racial and ethnic diversity in regards to staff, volunteers, and Board members. We will work on how we welcome, treat, talk to, and even disagree with each other. We will provide supportive resources to address the disproportionate stressors you face. We will ensure that EDC staff, leadership and Board understand the workings of anti-Black racism and address it. I commit EDC to be vigilant in this work.
- To every white person at EDC:
We have all benefited from our skin color. And yes, even though I identify as Latina, I cannot deny the privilege that comes with my skin color. The collective grief and rage over George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police is signaling a tipping point in our country, and a potential opening for structural change. It is essential that we don’t place the burden of creating this change on people of color. Now more than ever is the time for white folks to challenge the systems of racial inequality that grant us innumerable unearned privileges, and find ways to change this. It starts with each of us interrogating our own whiteness. I pledge to provide white staff at EDC with tools to develop a critical understanding of white privilege and of white supremacists’ culture. We will do this work in a way that does not put the burden on staff of color to educate us, and does not foster shame or guilt, but clarity and empowerment. I formally invite you to continue this essential work here at EDC.
Finally, I want to end on a personal note and share a story from my own family. A few days ago my son heard me commenting about Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper’s words when calling the police. I was mad. He didn’t understand why I would be mad about someone calling the police. He thinks the police are the good guys. So I explained to him about racism and police brutality. A few days later, I heard him ask his father if his father knew why people were honking their car horns over the weekend. I heard him tell his father “because a policeman killed someone.” So I asked our son why the policeman killed the person. Our son said: “because he was black.” I asked him: “was it ok to treat the man differently because of his skin color?” He said: “no!”
I was sad and proud. Sad that he isn’t even five and this is what he is learning. Proud of the understanding he is developing, and the man I hope he will become. Stay strong. Maintain hope and faith. And remember, we are in this together.
In solidarity; in support; in hope.
Martina I. Cucullu Lim, Esq.