Bending the arc towards racial justice

By Matthew Young

As a resident of the ethnically-­diverse Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative and as chairman of the advocacy and equity committee of the Minnesota Association for Environmental Education (MAEE) Board of Directors, I share my deep sorrow, but also deeper hope as we all live through the grievous, senseless death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd on May 25, 2020, killed by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department.

The loss of Floyd’s life, the resultant rioting and turmoil across Minneapolis and St. Paul during recent weeks speak of a deep illness in the life of the United States: the illness of racism and racist political and socioeconomic systems in this country.

Yet, as we proceed to live out our lives during the next weeks, months and years, we need to maintain our resolve to build community in solidarity with our neighbors across all ethnic, racial, religious and socio­economic backgrounds while maintaining an atmosphere of public health and safety. As Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke in reference to an even earlier speech from the 19th century abolitionist Theodore Parker: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Yet, how do we support this arc’s bend toward justice in our individual lives and that of the broader community of neighbors who are white, people of color and of myriad other identities and backgrounds?

Readers, I admit that talking about race, racial relations, diversity and equity will get messy, uncomfortable at times. Yet, isn’t some discomfort worth the long-term growth in reconciliation and solidarity with our communities and neighbors of color? Otherwise, maintaining the status quo means more lives of people of color lost, more riots fomented, more buildings burned, more grief caused.

Thus, when we encounter someone who says something racist or prejudiced, we need to own that moment, to intervene as allies of our neighbors of color, and calmly say, “Well, that isn’t true and here’s what is really true.”

And if we identify as white, we should take responsibility and admit our privilege. During a June virtual workplace meeting, I listened to three colleagues of color cry out loud and express their not feeling safe to go out of their homes here in Minnesota. Even one coworker said she could have “almost died heading back to my home.” Thus, if we identify as white, we should ask ourselves: “Have I ever felt that level of being unsafe in my community? Have I felt that I could die today just for going from Point A to Point B in my work day?”

Being free of this worry is one example of privilege that white people have in the United States.

The sooner that we can own up to this and leverage our privilege to support our neighbors of color, the sooner that healing our communities can begin. The sooner that we can stand shoulder to shoulder, whites with people of color, the sooner we can mobilize to demand city, county, state and federal policies that reward diversity, equity and inclusion, instead of perpetuating segregation, inequities and divisiveness.

The sooner we call for closing the opportunity gap in secondary education between white students and students of color here in Minnesota, the sooner that we can begin atonement for more than 400 years of supporting racist political and socioeconomic structures in the United States. The sooner that we can intentionally follow the arc of the moral universe and bend it towards racial justice, the sooner we can truly honor the lives of George Floyd, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark and the other people of color in Minnesota and across the United States who were taken from us too soon.

May we follow this arc and bend it towards racial justice every day in community.

Matthew Young is a resident Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative, where he lives with his wife Florencia and 4-year-old son Mateo.

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