“There is something dying in our society, in our culture, and there’s something dying in us individually. And what is dying, I think, is the willingness to be in denial. And that is extraordinary. It’s always been happening, and when it happens in enough of us, in a short enough period of time at the same time, then you have a tipping point, and the culture begins to shift. And then, what I feel like people are at now is, no, no, bring it on. I have to face it — we have to face it.” - Rev. angel Kyodo williams
Dear white folks,
Back in late May of this year, as so much was unfolding around the news of George Floyd, I published a blog called “Dear White Folks, we need to talk about racism.” Now, at the end of 2020, I thought we could take the time to reflect on the changes we’ve witnessed over the past year and honestly assess where we’re at in terms of our own progress - as white folks - in dismantling white supremacy.
It all feels like a mixed bag, to say the least.
I’m seeing symbolic “wins” in addressing systemic racism, personally and collectively, but I’m also seeing how far we still have to go. I’m noticing a wide spectrum of reaction from white folks, ranging from some suddenly being mortified at what they’re seeing and claiming “we had no idea this was still happening” to long-time racial justice organizers committing even more deeply to becoming abolitionists and then everything in between. It does feel like we are going through an unveiling of deep injustices while also seeing the ignorance, hatred, and greed that has always existed come closer and closer to the surface.
Network and Statewide Work
To start with the positive, on behalf of the ClimatePlan team, we are so excited about having the first Black chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in Liane Randolph. We continue to advocate for climate and equity focused leaders at all levels and we’re excited to work with Chair Randolph in this new role. We’re also excited to be a part of the Equity Advisory Roundtable that starts in 2021, which will help inform CARB, California Transportation Commission, and Housing and Community Development on all equity specific initiatives. We’re also grateful to leaders like Secretary David Kim at the California State Transportation Agency who released a formal equity statement and Director Toks Omishakin at CalTrans who also released a formal Equity Statement for CalTrans, and recently said, “In the equity space, there can be a lot of lip service. Equity is the word of the year. But I get frustrated with it being a talking point, when it’s something we should live by. Caltrans needs to understand how people live in order to know how to serve them. That’s the bottom line.”
While these are mostly symbolic victories, we are noticing more momentum in the direction of putting equity at the forefront. We know we have so, so much more work to do.
Going beyond the symbolic, we know that addressing systemic racism and inequality involves asking questions about who has power and who has access. Who is in elected office (has legitimate authority)? Who currently has power and is willing to give up or delegate power? Who has wealth and the capacity to generate wealth? Who owns land? Who has access to capital?
When we see COVID-related transit cuts in California disproportionately impacting people of color and their ability to get to work, we know there is still work to do.
When the spread of COVID in California not only disproportionately impacts people of color, but especially communities of color that live with poor air quality, we know there is still work to do.
When there are allegations of racism and discrimination within statewide agencies (i.e. CARB), we know there is still work to do.
When homelessness and evictions loom larger than ever during the pandemic for communities of color, we know there is still work to do.
In 2021, we’re taking a big next step as a team and network. ClimatePlan is going to be launching a Decolonizing Transportation campaign that we hope you’ll be a part of. We know that one of the biggest barriers to advocating for state funding is how complicated it can be. We'll be looking at how we can make some of the state transportation processes more understandable and accessible. Our State Policy Manager, Nailah Pope-Harden, will be leading this effort.
We’re also continuing to have conversations as a staff, with our Advisory Board, and with our network about how racism shows up, subtly and overtly in the workplace and in our programmatic work. While we know that many individual staff members in non-profits don’t have the dedicated resources, time, and bandwidth to show up for conversations around systemic racism and equity in a way that is so needed, we realize that we cannot allow that to stymie our efforts to address (and dismantle) how white supremacy shows up internally at ClimatePlan. We are planning various ways to keep supporting folks in our network to do this work, personally and organizationally.
We encourage foundations and other grantmaking entities that support non-profit organizations, especially those in the environmental sector, to consider providing funds that allow environmental organizations to not only build their capacity to focus on how white supremacy shows up in their organizations and partnerships with others, but to also fund programmatic work that is solely focused on racial justice. We know it takes thoughtfulness and a commitment to building the capacity and infrastructure in an organization to do racial justice work and we want to see that effort and work funded.
I hope that we’re all still taking regular, consistent action on addressing systemic racism in ourselves, our families, our workplaces, and our communities. In the last piece, I listed a number of suggestions to start dismantling racism. In the past 7 months however, we saw 70 million fellow Americans vote for an overtly racist President. I think there is an even deeper dive we can do into what our role is (as “white folks”) in this country.
Below are some questions for consideration:
- As a future ancestor, what is my role in this moment in history? In seeing yourself as part of a lineage with ancestors that came before and with generations to come, what is your individual role at this moment?
- What is my family lineage and history? What has been my ancestors’ and my experience living in America? When did my family come to this country and for what reason? What was their line of work upon arriving in this country? At some point, the majority of - “white folks” - had family that were immigrants to this country and many of our families have been in America for far less time than folks of color. It’s worth unpacking our own legacies in this country and what it even means to identify as white and/or American when we have such varying backgrounds.
- Assess your community. In looking at your friends, colleagues, neighborhood, your kids’ school, who is and who isn’t there and why might that be? Addressing racism isn’t just an intellectual exercise, but rather an assessment of the people and built environment we’re surrounded by each day. Get curious about why some people are there and others aren’t.
James Baldwin wrote, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
I know that reading, talking, or writing about systemic racism hits all kinds of nerves, but I think it’s our responsibility to keep coming back time and again to assess where we’re at and what we can be doing better. It genuinely feels like a lifelong process. I’m really curious to hear how others are or are not noticing shifts or differences in the ways we’re talking about racism and equity. I’d love to think through new ideas that are coming to light about what we can be doing differently or where there is room for more advocacy.