Beyond Flashpoints Like Trayvon Martin’s Death, How to Address “Everyday” Racism?

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April 8, 2012; Source: Washington Post

In the wake of the national dialogue around the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., there is a question about the role of the nonprofit sector in confronting community-level racism. The first significant national press coverage raising questions about Trayvon’s death and the failure of authorities to arrest or even detain the alleged shooter, George Zimmerman—by the Associated Press—occurred well over a week later. It took a long time before Martin’s death, which happened on February 26th, hit the public’s and the nonprofit sector’s consciousness as a powerful example of an important and tragic racial injustice.

Now, the death of Trayvon Martin is a front-burner issue for the nation and for many nonprofits.  But what about the quotidian incidents of personal, institutional, or structural racism that don’t rise to national preeminence, but are real and important to local communities nonetheless? In contrast to incidents that attract national attention, big time media, major celebrities, and mass protests, what about the all too common incidents in neighborhoods around the nation? What can nonprofits do to change the tenor of things, create an environment for positive change, and devise solutions—or steps toward solutions—for the pernicious examples of racism that permeate this country?

An example might be found in Stratford, Conn. (population 51,384), located in Fairfield County, with neighbors ranging from troubled Bridgeport to tony Greenwich. In Stratford, people still talk about an event called “the incident” from 2006. To this day, the only facts everyone in town agrees on are these: A white police officer, David Gugliotti, arrested two African Americans—a teenage girl and a Town Council member—during a dispute on a street corner in the city’s predominantly black South End neighborhood. The Council member, Alvin O’Neal, said he had seen Gugliotti “slam” a 14-year-old girl, Titasheen Mitchell, against his patrol car and hit her twice in the face and had intervened to help. Gugliotti argued that O’Neal was wrong and was cleared after an investigation. O’Neal paid a $50 fine for disturbing the peace and juvenile charges against Mitchell were dropped. Onlookers and residents sound like characters from Rashomon, all having seen “the incident” differently—with residents split on whether Gugliotti was acting like “a foul-mouthed racist” or “an upstanding officer.” Since “the incident,” Gugliotti has had two promotions and Mitchell is now attending community college and working at a local hospital.

Some nonprofits take on roles in these circumstances meant to clarify the issues and find productive avenues for dialogue and solutions. In Stratford, the mayor began a series of community meetings with the assistance of a nonprofit called Everyday Democracy (originally called the Study Circles Resource Center). Initially, the Center worked to “foster a large national network of multi-racial and cross-sector coalitions focused on issues of racism, inter-ethnic relations, and diversity.” Today, Everyday Democracy works “to make sure that community organizing, large-scale, diverse dialogue, and other civic processes can work together to create and sustain community change.” With Everyday Democracy’s help, Stratford residents participated in small groups over a several week period “to discuss their racial backgrounds, perceptions and stereotypes, and the incident.” That process led to the creation of Citizens Addressing Racial Equity (CARE), which has worked with the police, the schools, and employers to deal with the after-effects and even the underlying conditions behind “the incident.”

According to the Washington Post, CARE’s 30 members recently voted against disbanding. The city has an African American police chief, there are regular surveys of police-community relations, and the schools conduct a job fair aimed at recruiting minority job seekers, but the feeling is a little desultory. In the minutes of a CARE meeting from January of 2009, a couple of years after “the incident,” there was this statement: “Even though there is no current ‘hot button’ issue in town to get citizens involved, there doesn’t necessarily need to be an incident to spark interest in race relations.” What should nonprofits do about the small-scale racial injustices that occur all around us every day?—Rick Cohen

  • Brite White Lite

    Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

    The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.

    Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

    What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

    How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

    And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?

    But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

    They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

  • Steve

    Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY White country and ONLY into White countries.
    The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.
    Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY White country and ONLY White countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-Whites.
    What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?
    How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?
    And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?
    But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the White race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.
    They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-White.
    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-White.

  • Ralph Rosenberg

    What should nonprofits do?

    Not that much different than what the rest of society should do. Certainly, we look at our hiring patterns and the “diversity make-up” of our boards and commission, and we can increase contacts and outreach with all demographic groups in the communities we serve. This we can control. We can do more, just like society can do more. At one level, nonprofits can and should help deliver hope and promise. At a very practical level, nonprofits, by definition, are also good at education and outreach and can quickly mobilize existing community partnerships and efforts.

    [U]Remind people that injustice continues[/U]—We need to remind society of continued injustice, because overt and visible forms of injustice, like separate drinking fountains, is seen by many (or some) people, that injustice has been cured. Just look at recent polling broken down by racial or cultural demographics as to people’s beliefs as to whether they believe in the presences of continued discrimination in society. Not surprisingly to those of who have have worked in the diversity or civil rights fields, there are differences by racial demographics.

    [U]Please, broadcast loudly what works[/U], like the Straford Conn.story, that Rick Cohen cited. Use common language (if one does not think that common language is important, just look to the rise of the tea party—I do not agree with most of their positions, but I certainly can state their positions, by rote, because of common language and themes). When I was director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, we developed themes about injustice—what is so special about this country, how our country must stand up to insure the preservation of human dignity , that we cannot afford to lose the contributions of one individual in society, and in times of tragedy, all of humanity suffers. At our state agency, we also developed a unique program using Vistas to do outreach and education efforts across Iowa. http://www.leagueofiowahumanrights.com/diversitybestpractices.htm
    These efforts focused on what works, provided templates for what works (and maybe some examples of what does not work), and reached Iowans of all demographics. Focusing on the Starfords does not obscure or minimize the Martin tragedy, but provides direction, promise and hope.

    [U]And hope and promise are two examples of what nonprofits do well[/U]. One final example are community partnerships.
    [U]
    Partnerships.[/U] At Civil Rights Commission, we developed a specific strategy to advance and strengthen civil rights policy across the board—whether discrimination based on age, race, color, LGBTQ, sex, disability, etc. We aggressively sought our partnerships with both allies in civil rights matters, but also expanded to many different sectors of society, including sectors which frequently are at odds with each other, such as organized labor and business, but which came together on several civil rights battles. We did point out and educate the public, media and policymakers that the bulk of our cases were generated by complaints over race, disability, or sex. However, we found that explaining that discrimination laws remain an important part of a free society and that we all benefit from protections and benefits of anti- discrimination laws. Again, not to ignore that one still needs to enforce laws. One still has hate crimes and tragedies. But partnerships are another example what nonprofits can be successful creating.