DAY 11 – What is Environmental Racism?

I missed day 10 because WordPress wasn’t cooperating, but it was “How Your Race Affects Your Health” and *gestures vaguely at the current everything* so I’m not going to revisit it.

One of today’s readings was a profile on Marissa McClenton, an ambitious environmental justice scholar I had Environmental Justice in Disasters (a cross-listed graduate and undergraduate course) with an eternity ago this spring. We had a lot of really good discussions in class about some of the more egregious examples of environmental racism in the US.

The Atlantic article also linked for today’s reading is also good.

Today’s action items included joining Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice’s FB page or Delaware’s Sierra Club for local information.

DAY 9 – Housing Equity in Your Backyard

Apparently African Americans are 52% of the homeless population in Delaware, despite being 21% of the state’s population. That’s nuts! That’s super nuts.

I used to live in a highly segregated city – it’s apparently managed to get itself off the top 10 lists, but nearby and similar city Milwaukee tops the list according to some metrics. I’d thought, somehow, that living in a state with no top entrants on the various lists I’d seen, in a fairly mixed neighborhood, that it would be in some way better here. Apparently it just sucks differently. That sucks.

DAY 8 – The intersection of race and law enforcement

For a challenge partially sparked by the murder of George Floyd, we’ve built up to the question of police murder of black people. My reading today involved looking at what reforms might work to curb it. Body cams, de-escalation training, and police departments not hiring former cops who were fired for misconduct are all mentioned.

In a sort of terrible coincidence, today I got the social media guidelines for my current job – where I’m contracted to FEMA and therefore under DHS rules. Which means I’m allowed opinions but not on the clock and not ones that imply institutional support, basically. An article I read recently discussed the results one town had when they police department hired a social worker to respond to some calls, which relates interestingly to a hashtag discussion about police funding that’s been ongoing.

Apparently Delaware now has a Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force, though, so that’s good news!

DAY 7 – Civic Engagement, it matters

Posting this a little late because it’s been a long day.

But luckily, today’s first action item was the Census, which I did already early this year. It’s important that everyone be counted! Especially people rather than citizens.

Today’s second action item was registering to vote, which I’ve done. I actually have my ballot for the Democratic primary next to me, because I registered for vote by mail for the rest of the year. This year in particular, it’s important to know your options – particularly that you can vote early at – well, when I did it in 2008 it was at the municipal building. There are voting options that do not involve waiting at a crowded polling place on election day or relying on an increasingly undercut and sabotaged USPS.

The rest of the action items:

Research candidates; check online to see who’s on your ballot this year.
Get involved with Voter Registration in Delaware. You can register people to vote by emailing Dubard McGriff with the ACLU DE @ Dubard McGriff who have a goal of registering 400 Delawareans in Wilmington by October 10th, NAACP Central Branch by e-mailing, Gerald Rocha Sr., or contact the League of Women Voters to get more involved.

Sadly researching my candidates and actually filling in my vote by mail is still pending.

DAY 6 – Exploring levels of racism

Today’s reading was about the different levels on which racism can manifest. The most easily recognizable is usually interpersonal, but structural and institutional racism are both really important. The article talks about understanding historical context as part of understanding the whole picture.

It’s definitely something that comes up in disaster science, because of the environmental racism component, which is both structural and institutional. A finding that will probably stick with me forever is that race is the single most significant indicator of whether you’ll live near toxic waste. Politicians and corporations deliberately sited toxic waste dumps near communities of color, and also, historically, the more outrageous forms of redlining stuck POC near or on land that was “undesirable” – sometimes for being real close to toxic waste. We’re also coming up on the 15th anniversary of Katrina, so take a shot for every time you’ve read something that implied that Black people lived in flood-prone areas on purpose and knowing the risks. And that’s not talking about Isle de Jean Charles and the fact that Louisiana’s first climate change refugees are such in part because the Army Corps of Engineers excluded them from historic flooding and erosion protections.

. . . actually, in this context, let’s talk about Isle de Jean Charles at least in order to clarify that the community who was there was not white. A First Nation without federally recognized status (and thus protections and negotiation status), some members of the community have drawn sharp parallels to the Trail of Tears – the one that sparked the settlement of Isle de Jean Charles in the first place. There are complications now with how the community will relocate, and who and where and by what mechanism and when, and that’s what gets discussed more. But I think the baseline, the one that’s worth reflecting on right now, is that ACE deliberately excluded them as not worth protecting way back in the 1950s. Which is racist.

And this week we’re beyond self-reflection and have action items, which I think is cool. Today’s action item was finding your legislators and following them. I already follow my federal representatives on Twitter, and I’d emailed my state senator, but I went and followed him, too, and found my rep and followed him.

DAY 5 – Realizing the impact of racial trauma on Black Americans

For today’s Racial Equity Challenge, one of the three options was watching the below video:

The blurb was:

Watch an interview with Resmaa Menakem, on his book My Grandmother’s Hands, Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. This is the first self-discovery book to examine white body supremacy in America from the perspective of trauma and body-centered psychology.

Which meant of course I had to watch it. Because this is going on my public/professional blog, some context to that: I have probably-PTSD (on top of other brain problems, my brain is an adventure), and I help moderate an online mental health forum with a couple thousand users. One of the books that gets mentioned a lot is The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, so that’s my familiarity with trauma and body-centered psychology.

And, additionally, from talking to a fair number of people with PTSD, I’m familiar with one of the really under-discussed aspects of PTSD: digestive problems. Sometimes formally diagnosed as IBS, sometimes more intermittent and manifesting as “Well, the good news is it’s not organ failure” when someone shows up at Urgent Care/Emergency Room/Campus Health Center with what gets eventually diagnosed as stress-induced gastritis, food poisoning, or an eloquent shrug and a discharge (sometimes with saltines and apple sauce (the health center people were really nice)).

At this point of the pandemic and working with FEMA data and trying to do work towards my dissertation and other grad school stuff, I’m now –

Well, I know enough of what’s going on that I shouldn’t need to go to the ER again, and this video was definitely an intriguing prospect. In an example of the kind of blindness that white privilege affords even the well-meaning, I’d never thought of the impacts of institutional trauma on bodies. One of the other challenges for today was this article on how racism can cause PTSD.

Menakem discusses Black bodies, white bodies, and “blue” bodies – the impacts of institutional racism on police officers – and how everyone needs to find a way to work through their trauma.

I don’t have many other thoughts on today’s challenge, other than a vague sense of injustice that froyo is a stereotypically white people thing. It’s got probiotics in. Those are important, when you’re dealing with trauma’s effects on the body, and so froyo would do more good for the people experiencing more trauma from racism.

DAY 4 – Talking About Race is Challenging for Some. Here’s Why.

Today’s challenge was worded politely, but it’s 100% about white fragility. Because we do that whole thing. Particularly white women, moving the conversation to be about sexism. So I as a white woman feel a bit awkward about it!

But it’s important to sit with my awkwardness. That’s one of the things I’ve internalized in trying to work against and through my own white fragility as I’ve grown as a person. I still have kneejerk reactions to race conversations sometimes, but I can usually manage to catch that reaction, and acknowledge the feeling and see whether it’s something I actually want to act on. And working on this, on trying to separate feelings from speech and actions, has helped me figure out why I have these feelings and if I think the reason is stupid enough end up not having them at all – or only very mildly – when they would be inspired by a conversation.

This has led to the very strange circumstance where racially charged conversations are one of the few circumstances where I actually can refrain from running my mouth. Most of the time. It’s a work in progress, as we are all works in progress.

There was also an accompanying quiz for one of the challenge items, and I am perpetually a sucker for quizzes. I took it on my phone while waiting for my tea to steep, so no screenshot today, but I scored under 10, which comes out to ‘not as full of white fragility as you could be, go read the book to work on it.’ [sidebar: while trying to find a non-Amazon link to the book I found this fascinating article by John McWhorter in the Atlantic about it]

Actually, never mind, no longer a sidebar, because one of the other challenges for today was a list of 28 ways to be racist that I guess comes from the book.

The White Knight or White Missionary.
“We (white people) know just where to build your new
community center.” Or “Your young people (read youth
of color) would be better served by traveling to our
suburban training center.” Or “We (white people) organized
a used clothing drive for you; where do you want us to put
the clothes?”
It is a racist, paternalistic assumption that well meaning white
people know what’s best for people of color. Decision, by white
people, are made on behalf of people of color, as though they
were incapable of making their own. This is another version of
“blame the victim” and white is right. It places the problems at
the feet of people of color and the only “appropriate” solutions
with white people. Once more the power of self-determination is
taken away from people of color. Regardless of motive, it is still
about white control.

And this is one of the places where I do get hung up. Because I’m genuinely an expert in some things, and working on both deepening and widening this. If I were unilaterally declared Dictator of Houston Zoning (please someone make me Dictator of Houston Zoning), I’d very quickly be making maps of places where people couldn’t live or companies had to stop dumping or . . . Anyway, the point is that I have immediate and drastic plans for if I ever suddenly, magically, have enforceable authority over the city of Houston. Houston gets picked on specifically because it has absolutely no zoning laws as is.

And that would be based on expertise and flood maps. But I’m still white, and a fair chunk of the population of Houston is still Black. So that’s an uneasy scenario because of that dynamic. But the water doesn’t care.

And I think that’s the gist of it, being in disasters. You can try to build back better in a more equitable way, you can try to structure relief so it doesn’t perpetuate racist systems, but the hazard is colorblind. The systems we have put more POC in the paths of hazards, which is terrible, but “hello you are going to be underwater next week and can’t live here anymore, here’s some cash” is something that probably needs to be said anyway.

DAY 3 – What is Privilege?

One of today’s challenges was a Buzzfeed quiz on privilege.

You live with 37 out of 100 points of privilege.

You’re not privileged at all. You grew up with an intersectional, complicated identity, and life never let you forget it. You’ve had your fair share of struggles, and you’ve worked hard to overcome them. We do not live in an ideal world and you had to learn that the hard way. It is not your responsibility to educate those with more advantages than you, but if you decide you want to, go ahead and send them this quiz. Hopefully it will help.

Which I think is wildly simplistic, because intersectionality is a thing. Me being white has had a lot more influence, I think, than my depression, or sexuality, because a lot of stuff is something you can choose to disclose. Skin color isn’t something you can choose not to disclose in a face to face setting.

DAY 2 – Understanding and Reflecting on our Racial Bias

Today in the Racial Equity challenge we’re looking at implicit bias, including a clip from the Van Jones show.

I’m always a little concerned about implicit bias, because I don’t like not knowing what my brain is doing. I know I use heuristics a fair amount, and on purpose, but the goal of that is to just do things faster, and I want to not recapitulate broader societal nonsense within my own heuristics. Like, the goal is to be Will Smith, not another white woman calling the cops.

The goal is always to be Will Smith, tbh

Part of today’s assignment was to do an Implicit Association Test. I did, as you can probably gather, a Skin Tone Association test. I’m a little uncomfortable with having any preference at all, because terrible parts of my brain still believe that it’s possible to be a creature of pure Reason. I’m cautiously pleased that I’m at least more likely to extend benefit of the doubt to people who are more at risk if cops are called.

DAY 1 – Reflecting on our personal racial identity

I’m participating in the Delaware 21 Day Racial Equity Challenge, so I’ll be posting probably the next 21 weekdays about this. I’d like to be a better anti-racist and ally to my BIPOC colleagues, and this seems like a constructive step.

Today’s questions:

  • When did you first become aware of your racial identity?
  • What messages did you learn about race from your school and family?
  • Did those messages align with what you’ve seen in your life?
  • When has how others perceived your racial identity affected how they treat you?

I’m white, so I had the privilege of not developing much of a racial identity until late in high school. I just didn’t really think about it. I grew up in a very white town in Canada. I spent some time with local First Nations elders growing up, because my mom worked on a Masters of First Nations Studies and wrote a book on some of the local cultures and intersections thereof.

I remember thinking vaguely that it was racist that all the Chinese people in Barkerville, the Gold Rush historic site near where I grew up, were forced to live in Chinatown because everyone else was racist, but I didn’t think about it in context of “everyone else” being white, or white like me. I remember when my great-uncle died when I was 7 or 8 that I was surprised that the man who eulogized him, who’d been his best friend for years, was Chinese. I don’t remember if I had a feeling other than surprise about it, but I think I probably had some racist expectations that people were mostly friends with people who looked like them, despite multiple cousins who were Métis.

This was despite my immediate family being fairly firm that you treat people as people, you treat individuals with respect, and their stories/backgrounds/identities as valuable. My mother tends to approach life as an ambulatory set of eyeballs with unfortunately high-maintenance scaffolding, but she – and my dad, and my stepmom – trained as a journalist, so you respect (and extract, and document) people’s stories. But that approach also tends to elide reflection on your own race. My dad told me about how the majority-black Bay Area blues community was incredibly important to him as a community and emotional support after the messy divorce that meant he had to leave Canada and didn’t get to see his kid. But, for obvious reasons, that was later.

Moving to the US was different. I think the first time I was really, sharply, aware of race and how it impacted my treatment even in a progressive town, in a high school that “didn’t track” students, was when I took a class called – something like Women and Society? I was taking mostly college-geared classes, AP Statistics and Biotechnology and Shakespeare, and needed my social studies class for my junior or senior year. And the social studies classes weren’t split up like the math classes with their levels or the English classes with their levels of ambition. So I realized, walking into that class the first day, that this was more Black students than I’d seen in any of my classes the entire rest of the year.

And this was late in high school, where we were mostly picking classes based on college prospects and advisor recommendations, and it hit me that this meant that these students weren’t being encouraged to aim for 4-year universities like I was. I was angry.

In general, people tend to treat me well because of my race. I’m also fat, and a woman, so there are complicating factors, but I’m white, and have a white-sounding name. But the worst thing I’ve ever worried about when pulled over by the police is that the driver would get a speeding ticket. For the speeding that they were definitely doing. I think some of my colleagues of color have been slightly wary of me as a potential collaborator or ally or friend because I’m white? But I can’t say that’s not justified, having seen some of how they’re treated, and I don’t know how to alleviate any of that wariness without being weird and pushy in ways that are significantly weirder and pushier than I think anyone would be comfortable with.

Which this might help with! Who knows.