Russ Vernon-Jones: Dismantling racism is largely work that white people need to do
Vice President Joe Biden and other lawmakers leads a group across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., Sunday, March 3, 2013. They were commemorating the 48th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when police officers beat marchers when they crossed the bridge on a march from Selma to Montgomery. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) Purchase photo reprints »
To the editor:
I’m writing to appreciate the fine coverage of the “Coming Together: Facing Racism, Building Fairness and Community” project, of which I am one of the founders, and also to correct a misimpression. The article (Gazette, July 27) suggests that I will soon step aside and expect people of color take charge of the project. That has never been my intention and it would be irresponsible of me to not continue to do the work. I am committed to working collaboratively with people of color.
As a white man I understand that dismantling racism is largely work that white people need to do. It is we who are white who receive the unearned material advantages of racism, carry confusions and fears in our heads, and collude with the many societal arrangements that grant white people as a whole disproportional access, wealth and power. We, too, are dehumanized by racism. This is true regardless of how opposed to racism we may be as individuals.
At the same time, it doesn’t make sense for white people to do this work in isolation from people of color. People of color have been struggling for racial equity in this country for generations and we white people who are now joining that struggle need to join as allies, learning from the expertise, and guided by the perspectives, of people of color.
It is my deep hope that the project will benefit from shared leadership by people of color and white people, including myself. I also hope that over time those of us in the Amherst area will create opportunities for large numbers of people in our community to have courageous conversations about race and become increasingly aware and effective in standing against racism.
I assume that any misunderstanding from the article is the result of my failing to communicate my meaning fully to the reporter, not an error on her part.