“You’ll never get rid of racism”

I led a workshop at Work Ready, a mandatory program for any person receiving cash assistance in the area, on current events and reading the news. Knowing that the conversation could really go anywhere with this group, I figured I’d wing it and see where they decided to take the workshop. While none of them were too interested in talking about the news itself–what outlets they go to, where and when they see biased reporting–several of them had strong opinions to share regardless. The conversation spanned from the Confederate flag, recent events in Baltimore and Obama’s success as a president to tornadoes, homeland surveillance and random kidnappings, but it was all the more interesting when the women in the program tied it back to themselves and their own identities.

“You’ll never get rid of racism, so there’s no use trying.” It was a sentiment that essentially all in the room agreed upon, and this was sparked by my introduction of the Confederate flag controversy to the conversation. They couldn’t care less as to whether people take down the flag because, for one, they didn’t see its connection to racism (and though I tried to outline this argument to them, none were too convinced). For another, they think it’s foolish to even try to decrease racism in America because people are too set in their ways.

So the conversation quickly became me trying to convince a room of largely women of color why they should waste their time fighting for the rights of people of color. They spoke to me like I was naive–and in all fairness, I know I’m not the most persuasive source–but they also acted as if I was trying to convince them to start a new Black Panther movement on the streets of Gettysburg. In actuality, some of them were already doing small things that I think are beneficial to the larger cause of fighting present day racism. They gave me examples of pointing out and addressing everyday racism when they see it. They understood that there were different reasons for which people harbor racist thoughts. Yet they were not able to connect this to the larger systemic issue of racism in our society or show any interest in stopping it. They still saw racism as a problem of disposition instead of culture.

And again, a young, white male telling a bunch of slightly older, (primarily) women of color to confront the way news outlets promote systemic racism in their framing of events in Baltimore or to understand the way certain politicians view women of color on cash assistance is not going to magically create a group of highly involved agents of social justice. I do think, however, that these women would benefit from seeing the connection between their own lives and the somewhat oppressive nature of our larger culture in order to strive for better careers and more respect from the general public. But I also understand that it is hard for them to turn away from the reality of their lives today, especially the children for which they are providing, and invest themselves in social change. I believe what they really need is motivation that they can work towards some change, even small change, if they put in effort, and I figure I might as well stumble my way towards trying to make that a reality.

Darren Spirk ’16