Guest columnists Allen J. Davis and Tom Weiner: Racism, COVID-19 and white men

  • A Black Lives Matter march in 2016 in Northampton. Gazette file photo

Published: 5/13/2020 3:38:41 PM

We are speaking to white men who want to take the next step toward becoming racial justice advocates. We are learning that African-Americans are being impacted by the coronavirus at a rate far exceeding their representation in the general population and the causes are abundant, but they can all be boiled down to systemic racism — the result of 400 years of oppression that persists in the guise of poverty, inadequate health care, chronic illnesses, living in food deserts and the list goes on.

Historically white men, many of whose forbears have contributed mightily to this latest injustice, have not been proportionately represented in combating these inequities. Now is the time to see the statistics about infection and death rates — racism as a preexisting condition — as unacceptable and then to determine individually what your next step is to raise your own awareness and to become an anti-racist dedicated to promoting equality in whatever way works for you.

We each came to the place we occupy through different paths. Here’s how we got here:

Allen: My involvement in the racial justice movement began the day after the 2016 election. I realized that racial hostility and resentment were major factors in Donald Trump’s victory. Since then I have been educating myself about our country’s long history of racial injustice and the effects on the lives of black people today.

As I learned more, I felt compelled to take action to promote reconciliation between white and black people. I have helped organize, with black people at the center of the conversation, educational programs in libraries and community centers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire: “A Conversation About Racism: Staying Curious, Moving Forward, and Being Part of the Solution.”

Tom: Becoming conscious of the true history of our country while in college in the late ’60s was a revelation. Through taking classes and reading books like “The Fire Next Time,” by James Baldwin, and “Invisible Man,” by Ralph Ellison, my eyes were opened.

Working in an Urban Renewal Agency in White Plains, New York, inspired me to start a program for inner city youth from Hartford’s South End, where I was attending Trinity College. Living and working with inner-city high school students at the University of Connecticut as an Upward Bound English teacher fueled my commitment. You can’t unknow once you see the inequality and injustice. I taught what I’ve seen and learned to sixth graders for 40 years.

Here are some roadblocks preventing many white men from becoming involved in the cause of racial justice:

■ Being unaware of the history of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, education and housing segregation, mass incarceration, and how these historical realities harm black people in 2020.

■Believing black people are the problem.

■Fearing that acknowledging the prevalence of white privilege will require one to feel guilty about benefiting from it.

■Protecting white privilege instead of seeing the need to “privilege” everyone.

■Believing America and white men have done enough to help black people. Examples include affirmative action and the election of Barack Obama.

■ Knowing that soon white people will no longer be in the majority.

Here are some ideas for actions you can take to promote racial justice:

Write a one-page reflection about your relationship history with black people; read a book such as “So You Want to Talk About Race,” by Ijeoma Oluo, and “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson; watch a film like “13th” or “Harriet Tubman;” visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture; join a racial justice organization, including SURJ — Showing Up For Racial Justice, Arise for Social Justice, A Better Chance; or make amends by contributing to a racial justice organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, NAACP, United Negro College Fund, Movement for Black Lives COVID Mutual Aid Fund.

We white men need to take action in significant numbers if we are to end systemic racism and white supremacy from which we have benefited to the devastation of black people. There is no time to waste.

Allen J. Davis, a former Valley resident and current Northampton property owner, is a doctor of education who lives in Dublin, New Hampshire. Tom Weiner, of Northampton, holds a Master of Education.

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