“Am I Racist?” is the title of a library program I collaborated on with Stapleton resident Dr. Gregory Diggs last night (February 21, 2017) We met a few months ago through a Facebook group called the NE Denver Neighbors for Racial Justice. I found the group after I posted a piece I had written for my mommy blog on the neighborhood site Nextdoor, My Son Will Never Be Alton Sterling. It was a heartfelt timely piece of writing and I mistakenly thought that neighbors would appreciate it. The comments posted at first were lovely, a mother of a mixed race child thanking me for my post, other replies were of the “thanks for sharing your story” variety. But you know how the interwebs can be… things devolved rather quickly after that and I also received a couple of disturbingly ignorant private messages.
As luck would have it, that same day one of my neighbors was putting up a Black Lives Matter sign in her yard, and that’s how I discovered the NE Denver Neighbors for Racial Justice, a group started by Stapleton resident, Genevieve Graham-Swift. I joined the group, which was in part created to combat the racism neighbors had noticed on Nextdoor and the infamous Stapleton Watch group. I felt relieved when I joined the group. I felt like maybe I had found my Stapleton tribe; people of color, woke people, people I would be happy to have around my diverse family.
If you’re still reading this you may have guessed that I am a liberal. I believe that women are people and should have equal pay for equal work, I believe that the LGBTQ members of our society should have the same rights as everyone else, as my late mother always said on the topic of gay marriage, “Why should they be spared?” I believe that our country benefits from immigrants and that anyone fleeing a war zone should be welcomed warmly. I believe that institutionalized racism is still holding America back from being a truly great country. I also strongly believe we would all benefit from being kinder and more empathetic towards our fellow man/woman.
You might be asking why I’m writing this post aimed at Stapleton residents? Aren’t we kind and fairly liberal? Aren’t we open to “affordable housing”? Don’t we have some black/latinx/gay/asian friends? I voted for Obama and Hillary (even though I wanted Bernie)! Well, I’m writing this post because last night at the “Am I Racist?” program we opened up the floor for questions and comments. A black participant told a heartfelt story about her own experience with the racism that mars our country. One of the statements she made resonated deeply with me personally. As a woman of color* and a person who has worked in very diverse communities, I often find myself in conversations regarding racism and advocating for marginalized people. She said, “I’m tired, I’m so tired, I want white people to do the work. I want white people to stand up.” The pain and frustration she felt was evident and it’s a feeling to which many people of color can relate.
It is no secret that Stapleton is not particularly diverse but it appears many residents do in fact, want a more equitable and inclusive society. I see signs around my neck of the Stapleton woods, letting people know that “Hate has no Home Here” and other loving and inclusive messages. While I find these signs heartening, white people who wish to make a different and better America for our children need to do more. A sign in your yard is not enough. You need to walk the walk and talk the talk, even though things may get very uncomfortable for you.
It is okay to feel discomfort and emotions when talking about race, but if we don’t talk about it just because it makes us uncomfortable, there is no hope for our children. As my son grows up I don’t want him to be forced to march in the streets to protest racial injustice. When he’s older, I want him to shake his head in disbelief that institutional racism still plagued America in 2017 and then continue working on his cure for cancer.
Talking about racism in America is obviously a loaded topic but as more and more people become woke, I see white people (like my friend Genevieve) trying to make a difference. I see people willing to try and step up and carry some of this burden left behind by our ancestors. Slavery, segregation, and the disproportionate incarceration of black and brown Americans are only a few of the many stains on American history, but if we truly want to move forward, conversations like the one last night at my library are the place to start.
Understanding white privilege and being willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations and introspection are the first steps towards creating a more just and equitable society. I’m proud that I work for an institution that values intellectual freedom and is willing to make spaces for us to come together as a community. I would like to continue to host these kinds of programs at my branch and I encourage you to attend these kinds of programs. I encourage you to be an ally and to support all of the people that make America great. Last night’s program was by no means a night of solutions, but it was as Dr. Diggs said, “It’s just a beginning.” We are looking forward to adding another session in the near future. For more information on the kinds of programs and events we have at the Ross-Cherry Creek Library, please like and follow us on Facebook!
*If you must know, I’m half black and half white and I identify as black because I present as “other”, if you are white and reading this please don’t say something silly like, oh I thought you were white, I thought you were latina, or whatever else pops into your head, if someone tells you how they identify, you don’t need to comment or question them. Just accept it.
Any posts pertaining to the Denver Public Library are the author’s own thoughts and opinions and do not necessarily represent Library positions, strategies or opinions.