Easthampton library hosts evening of racial dialogue

  • Emily Williston Memorial Library in Easthampton GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 10/19/2021 2:20:30 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Black community members were encouraged to share their views on historic and modern racism at a virtual event hosted Wednesday by local advocacy group Racial Justice Rising and the Emily Williston Memorial Library.

Allen Davis of Racial Justice Rising, a local volunteer advocacy group, moderated the Zoom conversation featuring Dick Hall, Jeanne Hall, and Gloria Matlock, three African Americans from Greenfield. Davis asked four questions concerning the roots of racism, life being Black, and pursuits of a better future as nearly 40 people tuned in to listen.

Davis began by questioning why people of European descent labeled their whiteness as superior to other races. Matlock responded that white supremacy was a lie designed by Europeans to justify the way they stole from, enslaved, and killed people of color through history.

“The founding of this nation was bathed in blood … America has chosen to write its own narrative or fantasy … rather than confront the truth,” Hall said of the country’s tendency to ignore its violent past.

Jeanne Hall said it’s easier to convince oneself of superiority “when you meet someone that doesn’t look or talk like you.” She also mentioned that after many Europeans were constantly told they had privilege over others, they started to believe it themselves.

Secondly, Davis questioned why people of European descent insist that Black people must fix the problem of racial discrimination created by white people.

“A lot of whites don’t want to acknowledge the fact that Blacks have been treated so badly,” Jeanne Hall said, insisting that there won’t be a solution as long as whites continue to dodge blame.

“The problem was created in such a way that it cannot be fixed,” Matlock said.

Davis asked the speakers what it’s like being Black in the Connecticut River Valley.

“It’s a challenge every day,” Matlock said as she recalled tellers refusing to cash her work checks, being asked if she’s a drug dealer by strangers, and being pulled over by police to ask her if she was drinking or on drugs. Matlock said she was simply “caught driving while Black.”

“It’s been a mixed bag,” Jeanne Hall said. Although she grew up in an integrated neighborhood where she constantly interacted with white people, she noted that in Greenfield “a lot of whites do not see a lot of people of color.”

She recalled being followed by employees through stores and being accused of stealing by customers in checkout lanes. “When you walk out the door you have to watch your back,” she said.

“America is on the knife’s edge of having two Americas,” Dick Hall said, insisting that people of color are fed up with the way they’ve been treated.

Lastly, Davis turned to solutions and questioned how people can work together as a community to “save our democracy and the planet.”

Jeanne Hall advised people to go outside their comfort zones and talk to people that don’t look or sound like them. “We aren’t any different,” she said. “Get together with people and talk about your community,” she added.

Davis said a similar event will be hosted Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m., with a greater focus on constructing a racially just society within the Pioneer Valley and beyond.

People can register for this Zoom session at http://tinyurl.com/ewml-racism-talk.


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