There’s still so much to learn and assimilate about white privilege

Dear Leaders of Local Media Outlets in Humboldt County,

We hope this letter finds you and yours healthy and able to meet your basic needs in these pandemic times.

As a group working towards racial equity1, we, the members of equity arcata2, are reaching out to express our concern about how the recent coverage of the protests of shelter in place measures emboldens white privilege and white supremacy. We are committed to disrupting white privilege and white supremacy when we see it in interactions between individuals as well as in institutions and systems. We do this as best we can (and are always working to do better) in an effort to ensure the safety, well-being, and sense of belonging of Black, Indigenous and all people of color (BIPOC) in our community.

White privilege and white supremacy culture manifest in the media when the stories of the dominant group are centered and its needs are prioritized. We are concerned that the coverage of the protests of shelter in place measures centers the feelings, voices, and experiences of White people over Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in our community who are most impacted by the pandemic. On May 1, most local media outlets featured the protests to shelter in place safety measures by mostly White individuals, many not complying with physical distancing and mask protocols for safety. Our concern is that it highlighted one perspective of a multi-layered narrative without attention to how race and privilege play a role in how the coronavirus impacts our community.

As you continue to report on the pandemic, we ask that you highlight that most folks wanting to reopen the region are White where most essential workers are women of many races and BIPOC. We strongly suggest that you highlight how the pandemic has amplified the structural inequities that exist across racial lines and, as a result, put more BIPOC at risk of illness and death if exposed. We ask that you push back on the false narrative that we either save our health or save our economy. We ask that you diversify the perspectives you share about how the pandemic has impacted our community and raise up the voices of those most impacted by the coronavirus. We ask that you focus on the well-being of our collective community and not on its individual members.

Just last week, Centro del Pueblo organized an action to protest the dangers to essential workers. The group practiced physical distancing and had many folks present, but the protest received inadequate media coverage if any at all.

Another important reality worth noting is the safety risk that people of color run by simply being out in public, with or without a mask. In our local area in the last two weeks, there have been incidents of overt public racism and hatred against people of color that have been supported by online commenters. Although some of our community members of color may want to show solidarity with groups standing up to pandemic issues, many feel it is safer to stay inside because of the real risk of becoming victims to racism and hate.

In our experience, many White people get upset when they hear the term “white privilege” and insist that they don’t have any. White privilege does not minimize or discount hard times that White folks have experienced, it simply means that White people have not experienced hard times BECAUSE of their race in their access to education, employment, health or housing, the way people of color have due to their race.

When many hear the term “white supremacy,” we have been taught to think of extremist groups like the KKK, but in addition to these overt harmful and sometimes deadly acts of hatred that endanger BIPOC community members, “white supremacy” also plays out in our daily lives in subtle ways that are tremendously harmful. In addition to recognizing the still overt collective power over and control of our major institutions, businesses, nonprofits and government offices by Whites3, we know that either/or thinking, fear of conflict, defensiveness, paternalism, perfectionism, and a sole focus on productivity are examples of white supremacy culture in our daily lives. We often think about these characteristics as “American” but they are patterns of the dominant White culture.

Two resources that we have found useful for our lifelong learning to see, name, and disrupt white privilege and white supremacy culture are:

Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

One way that equity arcata contributes in the community is by offering learning sessions to establish a shared language and understanding of how we can act for racial equity as individuals and as part of institutions and systems across the region. Members of equity arcata also participate in monthly learning sessions because we all have learning to do. We would love to facilitate a session for your teams or have members of your news outlets participate in an upcoming learning session. More information can be found at equityarcata.com.

Thank you for taking our requests to heart as we strive for racial equity and racial justice in our community.

1 We know we will have achieved “racial equity” when everyone in our community has what we need to thrive in the areas of education, employment, health, and housing and that we can no longer predict how long any of us might live based on our race.

2 equity arcata is made up of an increasingly diverse group of folks from various sectors of the community working towards racial equity and racial justice for all residents of Arcata, particularly students and non-students of our community who identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC).

3 Congress: 90 percent white;Governors: 96 percent white; People who decide which TV shows we see: 93 percent white; People who decide which books we read: 90 percent white; People who decide which news is covered: 85 percent white; People who decide which music is produced: 95 percent white; Teachers: 83 percent white; Full-time college professors: 84 percent white. From Robin DiAngelo’s research cited in Edgar Villanueva’s Decolonizing Wealth (2018).

With gratitude and humility, Members of equity arcata

Christian Boyd, Wesley Chesbro, Jacqueline Dandeneau, Monique Harper-Desir, Catarina Gallardo, Gillen Martin, Alex Ozaki McNeill, Laura Muñoz, Lynette Nutter, Meridith Oram, Charles Powell, Monica Rivera, Len Wolff

Arcata

 







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