Schenectady County

‘To be doing nothing is dangerous,’ says ‘anti-racist’ author at Schenectady virtual event

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Categories: News, Schenectady County

Photo: Hayward Horton, PhD, SUNY Albany, Denise Murphy McGraw, Junior League of Schenectady & Saratoga Counties, Peter Gannon, United Way of Ukraine Capital Region. Second Row – David Olsen, PhD, Samaritan Counseling Center, Damonni Farley, Community Activist, Portia Alston, NAACP Schenectady Branch at Gateway Park in Schenectady July 16. Inset: Ibram X Kendi

SCHENECTADY — White America is having a moment.

Will it last?

“Never in my lifetime have I seen so many talk about systemic racism,” said Dr. Hayward Horton, professor of sociology at SUNY Albany.

That includes Fortune 500 companies directly pledging to dismantle racial barriers and promote more inclusive policies, he said.

So, what can be done to ensure efforts to build a more equitable society don’t lose momentum, Horton wondered.

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Answer: Get white allies of the Black Lives Matter movement to start thinking about how transformative policies will help them, said Ibram X. Kendi.

Whites shouldn’t think about how deconstructing racist policies will harm them, but rather how reinvention will help them.

“White Americans should start shifting their perspectives and comparing their situation to other white people in Western democracies,” said Kendi, the author and academic whose “How to Be an Antiracist” shot to the top of the New York Times’ bestseller list 12 weeks ago as the U.S. started to grapple with a national reckoning on race.

That includes pondering universal health care and coronavirus stimulus packages in Europe that have largely spared the workforce massive layoffs seen in the U.S., which is not only grappling with an uneven response to the pandemic, but is also struggling to move a fifth stimulus package across the finish line.

Kendi appeared with Horton and Denise Murphy McGraw, president of the Junior League of Schenectady & Saratoga Counties, for a panel discussion on Monday, an event that served as the kickoff for the Capital Region Antiracism Training Initiative.

While the initaitive is a new effort to combat racism here, communities around the country have conducted similar trainings, which include daily suggestions for readings, podcasts, videos, observations and ways to form and deepen community connections.

Kendi, the director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University and one of the nation’s leading scholars on race, says it’s not enough to simply not be a racist, but people must actively seek to stomp out racist practices and policies by being an “anti-racist.”

“To be doing nothing is dangerous,” Kendi said.

That includes, for instance, actively intervening if you see police using excessive force on a Black person, he said.

At a time when large-scale demonstrations have quieted nationwide, Kendi urged Black leaders to further solidify policy demands.

“What Black leaders need to do is ensure they are organizing in a way [in] which they can deliver policy changes, at least right now at the local level,” Kendi said.

That includes solutions designed to address why minorities continue to be sickened by COVID-19 at higher levels than their white counterparts.

Kendi said the federal government was slow to provide racial data early on during the pandemic, prompting he and his colleagues to create a racial data tracker, a collaboration between The Atlantic and the Antiracist Research and Policy Center.

“Collecting that racial data is absolutely critical,” Kendi said. “How can we see a problem without that racial data?”

Armed with more accurate information, local governments will be able to pivot quickly from providing immediate care and community testing to exploring long-term solutions, including how to remedy environmental issues in neighborhoods with a legacy of pollution and giving people pathways out of service-related occupations, both of which have been cited for reasons for lopsided impact of the virus on people of color.

And whole other policies can address the legacy of systemic racism — say, boosting funding for education, eliminating disparities in insurance rates and defunding police agencies — the only policy that will wholly address centuries of racist policies is reparations, he said.

Horton said that ongoing local challenges in combating systemic racism include ensuring that non-white minority groups get involved, and convincing them that Black Lives Matter is their fight, too.

“How do we get other minority groups to be better allies, particularly in terms of moving ahead of their own anti-Blackness, or even acknowledging it, and helping and assisting in the effort to be anti-racists?” he asked.

Kendi agreed it is “critically important” for other minority groups to speak up, and failure to do so further reinforces racism against themselves.

Nearly 500 viewers turned into the virtual discussion, which was aired on Proctors’ Collaborative Studio social media channels.

Without providing details, McGraw said the Niskayuna Town Board received a letter expressing displeasure over Kendi’s pending appearance.

“It made you sound dangerous,” she said. “It took a lot of things and took them out of context.”

Kendi responded: “If no one is upset at what you’re talking about, you’re not saying and doing anything.”
 

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More information about the Capital Region Antiracism Training Initiative will likely be released Tuesday, said McGraw, while the launch of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge is scheduled for Aug. 10.

The Daily Gazette is a media partner.

Anyone interested in participating in any aspect of the initiative can sign up for an email newsletter at proctors.org/antiracism.

Correction 8:15 a.m. 7/28: Hayward Horton is a professor of sociology. An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed him as an associate professor.

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