Anti-Racism Work is Even More Important During a Pandemic
Racism doesn't take a break for pandemics. In fact, COVID-19 has only exacerbated these issues. Some of the more prominent examples in daily news headlines include a spike in assaults and harassment of Asian Americans, disproportionate health and economic harm affecting communities of color, and most recently the rise of predominantly white "reopen" protests that don't just endanger everyone's safety, but also have a large, vocal white supremacist presence.
The fact is, if you ever wanted to know how deep-seated and pervasive racism is, COVID-19 has provided you with several textbooks' worth of case studies in just a few months. However, due in part to the fear and anxiety many feel because of this pandemic, many predominantly white communities, including LO, are taking a one-size-fits-all, "everyone's hurting" approach and actively ignoring culturally relevant strategies.
Whether intentional or not, this only makes these issues worse. Simply put, we cannot afford to take our eyes off the ball when it comes to racial justice in this moment.
If there was ever a time for LO to step up and utilize its immense wealth and resources to tackle racism, and not just in ways that only support itself, it's now. While this community has certainly been affected, the fact is, we have the resources to weather this storm better than most of our neighbors in the Portland metro area. For example, as more schools adopt distance learning, low-income students (many of whom also happen to be students of color) are being shut out of the process because of lack of access to computers and reliable internet. You don't have to be a fortune teller to see that, without intentional intervention, this is going to further exacerbate racial and income disparities in education.
This is just one of many issues where people in LO can organize, repurpose our privilege and address systemic racism in a meaningful way. Individual acts of kindness are nice and necessary, but they can only go so far against established systems and organized campaigns.
Here are a few more suggestions for LO's institutions and community members to organize and fight racism in this moment:
Make the City's DEI Task Force a standing committee: Diversity, equity and inclusion issues in LO are deep-seated and can't be solved in a mere six months. The DEI Task Force should be a standing committee and empowered to address DEI-related community concerns in real time.
Invest in a public education campaign: Part of creating a culture of anti-racism is using our respective institutional platforms to amplify the message. Whether through newspaper ads, email newsletters, outdoor signs and/or other means of reaching the public, we should be spreading messages that condemn overt and systemic racism, educate people about how these phenomena play out in our community and highlight the role we can play in curbing systemic inequity in the Portland Metro Area and throughout the state.
Conduct a City equity audit: Our neighbors in West Linn are moving forward with an equity audit in response to the Michael Fesser scandal. Not just should LO follow suit, but it should be intentional in hiring a culturally relevant firm to conduct the audit and compile data. Based on LO's history, reputation and pervasive ongoing racism issues, it's clear that continuing to rely on good faith and anecdotes from predominantly white individuals in city government, as well as other influential institutions, is not enough.
Support culturally relevant resources and institutions: Whether its APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon), Innovation Law Lab, or NAYA (Native American Youth and Family Center), just to name a few, there are no shortage of groups on the frontlines of culturally relevant work regarding COVID-19. Donate, volunteer and amplify their work.
These are just a few areas where we can organize and move the anti-racism needle. Wherever you choose to contribute, let's all make a pledge not to look back on this time and wonder what we could've done.
Bruce Poinsette is the media action team leader for Respond to Racism and a 2007 graduate of Lake Oswego High School. He currently works as a freelance writer.
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