Did you know that at one time in New York, in order to free an enslaved person, the enslaver had to pay a fine of 200 English pounds?
August 2022 Newsletter curated by Shelly Tochluk
Author of Witnessing Whiteness and Living in the Tension
Member of AWARE-LA
Hello All! I hope this newsletter finds you well. Did you read any of the books featured in last month’s newsletter? I listened to three during my July travels: The Firekeeper’s Daughter, Salt Houses, and Infinite Country. Each was wonderful in a completely different way. (To new readers: I do not usually offer personal reflections in this newsletter. However, this edition deviates from that because this July I traveled to Alabama with a multi-racial group of 10 women for a Civil Rights Tour and I want to share a few recommendations with you.)
Did you know that at one time in New York, in order to free an enslaved person, the enslaver had to pay a fine of 200 English pounds, the equivalent of $50,000 today? Consider the implications. It’s easy to imagine ourselves as living in the past and making decisions in keeping with today’s ethics. What if doing the right thing today means paying $50,000 to a reparations fund? What if today’s equivalent is joining the police/prison abolition movement? Would you do it? Could you do it?
This is just one of the many questions the Equal Justice Initiative's The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama raised for me. If you are ever in a position to travel, please consider visiting both the Museum and its associated National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The experience was so powerful (and the content so rich and overwhelming), that I visited the museum twice in the same week.
Also consider exploring the website for this up-and-coming location for reflection and exploration, the Mothers Of Gynecology Monument (also in Montgomery). I had no idea what I was entering until I was in the middle of it, and then its power hit me. It is a monument, and yet it serves as a healing space. Read about it here.
In additional to sites in Montgomery, tours of Birmingham and Selma helped me understand how my general education on the Civil Rights Era was haphazard, focusing only on key moments and locations, such that it left me without a real appreciation for the thousands of “foot soldiers” who trained, agitated, and marched in their communities for years before they gained attention.
What is today’s equivalent? We are living in the middle of a movement struggle that will shape the nation’s future. What will be our contribution? How will history write about us? These are the questions that filled me during the tour and stay with me today.
The tour also brought me face-to-face with contemporary struggles, like this one highlighted in this short 10-minute video called, “Trained In,” which shows how the history of discrimination in Birmingham lives on today. If you can’t visit any of the places yourself, consider watching this 2-hour documentary suggested by a reader, available on Netflix, “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America.” It is a helpful resource to understand the timeline of anti-Black racism in the U.S.
Witnessing Whiteness, 3rd Edition
Yes, readers of the 2nd edition will benefit from reading the new 3rd edition. It includes a new chapter that asks white people to grapple with the detours we make in the face of complex situations related to supporting Black lives. It has been restructured to represent the political times we are in, offer a stronger focus on the need to act, and infuse my updated understanding of how to navigate white identity. It is the right book for this time, and I hope people will use it and put the 2nd edition to the side.
Please consider buying from Left Bank Books, a community bookstore in St. Louis that has supported Witnessing Whiteness for almost a decade, was recently flooded this past week due to the torrential rains in their area, and could use the support! It will cost a few more dollars, but it will support the store.
To purchase directly from the publisher, click here.
Early Workshop Series Adopters
If you are considering launching a group discussion of Witnessing Whiteness this fall, new session agendas, handouts, and resources aligned with the 3rd edition are on the way. Publication is 2-3 months away. However, if you want to be an early adopter and access pre-publication drafts so you can plan for a fall series, sign up here.
Time-Sensitive Invitation to Attend
(I will facilitate this workshop) Improve your anti-racist conversations! In this workshop, I will combine Janet Helms’ white racial identity model with ideas about how to effectively call people in to antiracism. The information will help you avoid counterproductive conversations and understand the need and value of developing a positive, antiracist white identity. Breakout room discussions alternate with presentation. Prior Calling In workshop unnecessary. If you have questions about the workshop, email: CallingInBuildingAllies@gmail.com. Register here.:
Available since January 2022, I am finally reading this book for myself. It is not at all what I originally expected, and I strongly recommend it to all readers. Whereas I anticipated it being a call for people to become abolitionist, with explanations of its political rationales and recommendations, it is actually a recipe book for a healthier life and culture. It is helping me realize how abolition is about all of us being healthier together. At various moments while reading I have found myself considering buying a case of books and handing them out as holiday or birthday gifts. Give yourself a present and buy this book!
LET’S GET ACTIVE
The political times we are in require us each to play some kind of engaged role. What will it be for you? This Anti-Racism Daily (ARD) edition offers a simple and straightforward approach to help you make a difference in 5 minutes a day. Learn about different protest strategies here.
IN THE NEWS
Bruce’s Beach Returned
This LA Times article highlights a precedent-setting move. Land seized from Black residents in Manhattan Beach, CA decades ago through eminent domain was just returned to the family’s heirs by Los Angeles County.
Questioning Who Deserves Counseling
With the recent spate of mass shootings, some are posing a less-often asked question: why do we react to mass shootings with immediate questions regarding the mental health of the shooter and the psychological impacts on the victims, and yet we do not react similarly when we hear of other incidences of gun violence? This question was raised in this article after the Highland Park shooting garnered strong support, while that same weekend many other Black and Brown individuals were shot and killed. Read this and consider why, when it comes to Black and Brown violence, we tend not to ask, what happened to that person? What trauma turned them into someone who would take out that action?
Law Enforcement has “No Special Duty” to Protect Citizens
Most of us grew up with the belief that police officers’ job is to protect and serve the public. Most police officers probably believe that as well. Coming to light for many, however, is that the courts have ruled that except in specific circumstances, police have “no special duty” to protect citizens from harm
For the best, well-rounded and balanced discussion of the topic, listen to this Radiolab podcast episode, titled “No Special Duty” (originally produced in 2020, re-aired on Radiolab June 17, 2022).
I began thinking about this issue again in the context of protest marches in June when I was made aware of critiques of law enforcement following an assault that took place during a white nationalist march in Boston. (Listen here, beginning at minute 30). Questions raised include, why wasn’t law enforcement stopping people for questioning after the assault, and why were they not giving aid to the person assaulted? The police response was, “It’s 100 of them and 4 of us. We’ll call EMS.”
The following week, a close colleague alerted me that a man with an AR-15 arrived and paced back and forth (outside a designated protest area) in front of the library where she works while they held a Drag Queen Story Hour event. After multiple calls to the police, asking for officers to come inside and/or do more than simply park across the street or drive by, the police chief answered the phone and said the police had no obligation to come into the library to speak with their staff if the officers feared for their safety. Inside the library were petrified library staff, patrons, and counter-protestors who had run inside after seeing the armed man arrive and begin pacing around. The experience has understandably left my colleague questioning how the police actually make us more safe and closer to adopting an abolitionist perspective.
The podcasts and reports leave me clearer that police over-monitor groups like BLM (viewing them as a threat), but fail to plan to protect people from hate groups lie Patriot Front (who are a threat). And yet, when they see them as a threat to themselves, they report being too afraid to do anything to protect the public. This is a problem requiring attention.
Democracy Alert – from Western States Center
“Last week, seventeen civil rights organizations wrote a letter asking the Department of Justice to investigate the white nationalist group Patriot Front for criminal actions under federal law. In the wake of national attention on arrests of Patriot Front members targeting a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene and an alleged assault on a Black artist at a Patriot Front demonstration in Boston, broad accountability is crucial or the group will continue to escalate.
Western States Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law led the letter to the DOJ, which has been cited in coverage from Idaho to Massachusetts. Over the weekend, the Boston Globe reported that while Boston police investigate the alleged assault, “public pressure is mounting for federal intervention.” Patriot Front and other white nationalist groups pose a profound threat to inclusive democracy, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights, and their actions demand a vigorous response from every part of our government.”
Read the entire alert here. It includes information about a concerning partnership occurring in Nevada between some “Constitutional Sheriffs” and True the Vote and their plan to surveil ballot boxes.
AWARE’s monthly Sunday Dialogue (SD) occurs on the 3rd Sunday of every month, 3-5PM Pacific via the Zoom online platform. We focus on connecting, sharing, and learning from one another. If you'd like to join us to receive monthly invitations, please subscribe here: Sunday Dialogues Interest List Sign Up