Intentions Steeped in Privilege Benefits No One

 

Last week, the IndyStar reported that an upcoming event in Broad Ripple Park called Rock Against Racism had been cancelled.  In its reporting on this cancellation- the Star failed to interview any of the critics of the event or to probe into the real reasons why anti-racist community organizers are opposed to events like these.  This is my response to what was stated, as well as what actually happened leading up to it’s cancellation.

broken-heart--bleeding-heart-michal-boubinThese indeed are trying times for us all. The events of Charlottesville rocked much of our nation to its core, bringing attention to the harsh reality of racism in America. The biggest travesty of all was that it took the murder of a white activist to catch the attention of white America. It brought to the forefront that race issues in America, in fact, affect us all. Black and brown communities have faced this sort of violence for ages, and continue to even after Charlottesville.  But White America was astonished. And with that, many people felt called to do something, including the organizers of the Rock Against Racism.

Unfortunately, that call did not elicit a thought on centering the communities that are truly impacted by racial violence. To organize an anti-racism event with not a single person of color’s input was not just an oversight, but sheer ignorance. To not take the time to find the groups that are active in fighting against racism, was laziness at best. For media outlets to only rely on the commentary of those who erred is pure incompetence.

The cancellation of Rock Against Racism is a critical lesson to white organizers, activists and “do-gooders”.  This work cannot be done without asking the hard questions, and, in turn, listening to and learning from criticism. When White organizers plan events that do not center people and communities of color, not only are they not helping to ‘end racism’, they are actually playing a part in silencing the marginalized, assuming that they know better than those who have been resisting racism every minute of every day.

It is time we stop taking what those who cause this harm have to say at face value. It is our duty, and especially so of media, to see what is being said by the other side. What happened to Rock Against Racism? A concerned person of our community spoke up about concerns, and that turned the organizers on their head. 

 

“I don’t see any of our local community groups heavily involved in our city included in this event. Folks working their a**es off all day everyday not getting represented, supported, ACKNOWLEDGED. I don’t see how we can do this event without them” said Kelly Everitt on a facebook post on the event page.

 

What happened? One of the organizers asked her to do the work for him, as he did “not have the bandwidth to reach out to every community organization and get them signed up…” Next came  a tragic tailspin, backpedaling and covering up the fact that he was informed of groups, even prior to coming up with the line-up. There was a claim he messaged  a fake Black Lives Matter group and that he left the lack of response as no interest. This mistake cuts to the core of the issue: to attempt to host an event to combat racism,  with no idea who is actually doing the work, is  evidence that maybe you are not in the position to offer help in the area. This became further evident, when several heavy hitters in the activist community provided  information on how to make the festival better, but he had no idea who they were. Proof again that maybe instead of claiming to combat racism, one should do actual research on the members of our community that actually have their boots on the ground.
As an organizer for American Friends Service Committee, a queer woman of color, and a daughter of an immigrant, the harsh reality of racism is something I can not take lightly. The real danger of being a person of color in the United States is daunting and always present.  When some are unaware of this reality, they can misstep, by assuming they can effect change on a topic that does not directly affect them, they made several mistakes. The organizers of Rock Against Racism  attempted to try to “activate” the community, but failed to consider that the white, mostly male group organizing this event have no experience in dealing with race issues on a daily basis. To add insult to injury, they sought to raise money for  a national organization that is focused on freedom of speech and not explicitly racial justice.  None of the organizers pushed  for a local organization to receive donations.  One of the organizers didn’t believe in the Black Lives Matter platform. The biggest red flag should have been, if someone in your group doesn’t believe in supporting a Black Lives Matter group, they shouldn’t be putting on a anti-racism event.

The reason the Rock Against Racism event was cancelled is simple:  the community leaders that actually do anti-racism work every day were excluded from the planning process. When these leaders asked about representation they received nothing but excuses. Let this be an example for all: when speaking on matters that affect others more than ourselves, we must center those affected and ensure they are the ones taking the lead, and not succumbing to privilege.

Privilege is assuming you know what is best without consulting those truly impacted. Privilege is wanting “to use what resources/skill sets (you) had to better our community and yes, the intention was to have a platform for community leaders to speak” {as stated by RJ Wall on a facebook post that has since been deleted}, when you think you can get away with actually not doing so. Privilege is doing no research on who is actually doing the work and has been for years, when doing something as big as tackling racism. But we all can learn from this, as we step outside our comfort zone to hold all people accountable.  The moral is clear: center the voice of the marginalized, so real work can be done to get us all to take a stand against racism.  Let us also be clear:  no one in the movement wanted the festival to be cancelled. We just wanted the representation we deserved and wish those that continue to work on the Rock Against Racism events take all the comments we made to heart and make the next festival a real event to combat racism.

There are many lessons we can all take from this. How will you ensure that those most affected are centered? When and how will you speak out against misogyny, racism, ableism, sexism or privilege? In times like this we must make the hard choice to step outside what has been normalized and ask the questions that can truly make a difference. This is the time to take a stand. More times then not, privilege can be combatted by just asking questions, centering the marginalized and often times simply supporting those already doing the work. 

Let it also be known that the former spokesperson for Rock Against Racism, has suddenly disappeared from social media, along with his posts. Transparency is crucial when you are doing any work dealing with social justice issues. If you are going to put yourself in a position to become a voice against racism, you must also be open to criticism. This work is not easy. It gets messy. There are times when you will be called out and you must accept that with humility and honesty. Let your mistakes be a learning lesson for others. We all can learn from the horrible mistakes that happened with Rock Against Racism, and pretending it didn’t happen will not benefit anyone.

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3 thoughts on “Intentions Steeped in Privilege Benefits No One

  1. My Beloved Sister.
    THANK YOU. Your voice does not fall on deaf ears. You are amazing. Keep writing.

  2. Thank you for being a badass! Thank you for your transparency. Thank you for calling to light what should be, but has not yet gotten bright enough for some to see. We could all learn a lot from each other if we took the time to have a conversation. That’s definitely where it needs to begin – a festival can grow from there.

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