Defeating White Supremacy: Racial Apartheid and the Path to Justice | Columnists
Alaska may seem a far cry from Jim Crow South, but when a sitting lawmaker announces membership in the white supremacist organization Oath Keepers, and another lawmaker introduces legislation banning the teaching of certain aspects of racism in the history of the United States, we all have an obligation to confront white supremacy right now.
Representative David Eastman’s membership and advocacy of the white supremacist organization Oath Keepers, which played a leading role in the January 6, 2020 storming of the U.S. Capitol, has led to numerous requests for deportation from Eastman of the Legislature. In addition, legislation (HB 228) was introduced that would prohibit the teaching of racist practices, institutions, and violence documented by the New York Times “1619 Project.” These facts should compel us to question our own role in the history of our nation and state, and what our individual responsibility might be to create equal opportunity and honor the human rights of each of our neighbours.
House Bill 228 would prohibit teaching basic historical facts, including the nature of the slave trade and how it brought African Americans to the American colonies; the relationship between slavery and early political power struggles in the United States; the almost incomprehensible violence on the plantations; the Jim Crow era and the laws that segregated so many aspects of American society; and the relationship between segregation and our built environment – from forgotten slave markets to the location of highways. Denying this history, or banning its teaching in schools, would – if successful – make it impossible to rectify inequalities by making it impossible to understand the roots of racism.
I believe almost everyone wants to live in a world based on respect, fairness, justice, and celebration of our unique differences and commonalities. None of us were alive when those terrible moments in history happened, and most people are not consciously or intentionally racist. For example, I have no reason to believe that the sponsor of HB 228 wants to advance racism. This is not to defame or point fingers. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to create a better future for all. It starts with understanding that we have inherited systems and institutions that have a legacy of harm. None of us should in any way feel guilty for being born into a society with long-standing inequalities and racist power structures – instead, we should be freed to see these power structures honestly and consider our role in building a society with truly equal opportunities for all. .
Through the work of countless activists, we have normalized an ethic of racial equality over the past half century. To truly achieve this vision, we must face our history and do our part to acknowledge the inherent biases we all learn from a young age. No one is immune to bias and prejudice in a racialized society, including those who work every day to fight racism. But none of us should in any way feel guilty for being born into a society with long-standing inequalities and racist power structures – instead, we should work together to see those power structures honestly. and consider our role in building a society with true fairness for all. .
As someone who grew up in the South with school boundaries drawn to separate children by race, I saw firsthand how diversity died out following the wealthier, whiter students into classrooms. advanced and poorer, darker-skinned students in standard or remedial classes. The most important boulevard in my hometown was lined with the statutes of traitors who led the effort to destroy the United States in order to create a new nation shaped around slavery. My city’s highways were placed to obliterate middle-class black neighborhoods, a central function of the criminal justice system was to keep black people locked in a cycle of unemployment, poverty and crime that could further fuel racist fears . None of this was exceptional – Southern towns still have statues of murderers, traitors, terrorists, slave owners, while most lack the most basic memorial of more than 4 000 blacks who were murdered by lynching. Even today, many people are unaware that the lynching was a form of public terrorism, a well-organized show of fear that included public advertisements, picnics, festivities, and postcards to commemorate the occasions. This public execution of black American vigilantes was so normal speaks to the depth of racism in America, not to mention the acts of violence that have happened to Indigenous peoples across the country and other people of color. Nor were these acts of racism confined to the South. Similar examples of systemic racism can be found across our country and in our great state of Alaska.
I understand that the sheer scale of these crimes and violence makes them difficult to think about and recognize. But we need to be honest with ourselves about what happened, its effects on the present, and our responsibility to each other right now. This includes the realities of racist violence in Alaska, including similar Jim-Crow era segregationist policies such as “No Dogs/No Natives” which was held by many establishments, the enslavement and internment of the people Unangax, the theft of indigenous lands, until the bombardment. of Kake, Angoon and Wrangell, and the abduction of Indigenous children from an abuse-ridden boarding school system. This is our history in our nation and in Alaska – a history that belongs to everyone – and denying it prevents our future generations from learning the lessons of this history and creating a better society for all. We are doomed to repeat the history that we cannot teach.
Racism goes beyond the level of the individual. “Structural racism” is a set of public policies, institutions and cultural beliefs that perpetuate racial inequality. It is essential that we focus our attention on change at this level. Yes, changing individual viewpoints is important, but it’s not about a puritanical crusade against the individual, it’s about making sure we can learn from our history so we can change systems that continue to harm community members and neighbours. Addressing these issues is an act of love for our neighbours, it is not an act of blame or an attempt to slander, and we must not give in to fearmongering tactics that pit us against each other. Let’s focus on policies and structures that can most certainly be changed, while trying to understand how racist mores can manifest in our own worldviews.
We can’t wait until we’re all perfectly anti-racist to start this work. We are all imperfect and we are all still learning. Yet we can all take steps to work toward a more racially just society. So what does progress really look like? What should be our agenda and our responsibility for an anti-racist society? Here are some policy ideas.
Recognizing that anti-Black racism is inextricably linked to land theft and genocide against Native Americans in Alaska, it is especially important to support public policies that finally recognize the right to self-government and land stewardship that we call home. This basic premise has a myriad of implications, from tribal recognition and partnership over child care to providing ample funding for rural schools, compacting public education, prioritizing subsistence harvests to funding for rural public safety, restitution of land to indigenous peoples, and other measures to elevate tribal sovereignty.
Knowing that racism is a cultural phenomenon and that eradicating racism is only possible when children are allowed to see the humanity in each other, we must remain committed to a properly funded and non-segregated school system, in both urban and rural communities. . Our schools are the most powerful institution that can create equality of opportunity, but they can also be the most powerful institution to perpetuate racism, which is why racists have fought so hard to maintain a segregated education.
Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out that racial equality is impossible in a context of deep poverty and economic stratification. We must leverage statutes, institutions, and cultural norms to defend and grow the middle class, including a strong role for public employment, strong unions, and meaningful norms that make worker abuse taboo. Where poverty is most acute among minorities, equality requires an economic agenda focused on wage growth and economic mobility.
Follow the leadership of community organizations like the Alaska Black Caucus, NAACP, Native Leaders, and other BIPOC groups who are closest to many of these issues and understand how best to address them. This includes protecting the right to vote in law, which civil rights organizations have advocated for.
None of these public policy goals are possible if we deny the very existence of racism in our schools or emulate totalitarian societies by censoring our history, especially the obvious history documented by a press whose freedom is enshrined in our constitution. The Jim Crow South may seem a long way from Alaska, but there is no place in the United States that has not been affected by racist policies and practices. At a time when white supremacists are trying to unravel our democracy and normalize neo-Nazism, and legislation has been introduced to censor history in our classrooms, we cannot pretend white supremacy is a distant threat.
Zack Fields represents Downtown Anchorage in the Alaska House of Representatives.