Dear Decaturish – A message to our white Decatur neighbors
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This letter is addressed to our white neighbors. But first, a letter to our Black neighbors.
Dear Black brothers and sisters of Decatur,
For far too long, we, your white neighbors, friends, brothers and sisters have failed to respond appropriately, equitably, and with humanity to your cries for justice and your demands for change. We have neglected to engage in the deep work required to root out white supremacy that lives within and among each one of us. Furthermore, we have stalled, excused, and lacked the courage to remove visible signs of hate and white supremacy from our city, just as we have failed to demand change and dismantle each system (see: all systems) in our city infected with the scourge of white supremacy. Shame on us for remaining complicit in your continued oppression in our schools, our neighborhoods, our city, and our state.
Though you don’t owe us a damn thing, we hope you will take a moment to read the letter below that we are addressing to all neighbors of White Decatur.
Dear White Decatur,
It is safe to say that the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, and countless others at the hands of police over these last months and more recent weeks have deeply shaken all of us. And, paired with the shelter-in-place restrictions of this spring and summer and the continuing public health crisis we face, we have been forced to consider – in ways like never before – what the day to day realities of living under constant threat and fear for your life might feel like.
We have learned to calculate risks and plan our routes before leaving the house. When we are out, we operate on high alert and take caution to cross the street, never knowing who might be a threat to our health and safety. We check in with loved ones regularly out of fear for their safety, and when we are together, we do our best to see each other, connect, and communicate from behind the masks we wear to protect ourselves and others.
Sadly, these experiences have always been a part of the daily reality for our Black friends, neighbors, and loved ones. For far too long in the fight against systemic racism, too many white folks have offered little of substance that lies beyond the limits of our own comfort, and by doing so, we have remained complicit in the disgusting myth of white supremacy that infects our water, infiltrates our air, and inhabits our bodies, minds, and hearts.
It is well past time for us to ask ourselves why. Why have we been willing to accept less for our Black friends and neighbors than we do for ourselves for so long now? Why is it okay with us for the people we work with, volunteer with, worship with, exercise with, live with, go to school with, and play with to be treated with less respect, offered fewer opportunities, be paid less, receive harsher punishments, and more? And, on a more local level, why, when so many of us decried the lack of affordable after school options for our children in pre-COVID times, did so few of us send our kids to the Boys and Girls Club, a well respected and affordable option right here in Decatur? If we are to make lasting change, we must closely examine our own personal racism and the numerous ways it manifests in our thoughts, decisions, and daily interactions, and we must take intentional, direct, and consistent action to root it out.
We have a lot of work to do as a city as well. The reality is that almost every facet of life in Decatur is fundamentally segregated. We continually celebrate our manufactured public image as a progressive place to live, as if it is some sort of proof of our goodness as white people and our superiority as a city. Yet, we continue to see racist displays of expressions of power within our own schools and community, including racist epithets made during a recent school board meeting, and the removal of the word “Black” from the Black Lives Matter messages on the marquees in front of Renfroe Middle School and Westchester Elementary. Earlier this year, the reaction to the racist video made by a white Decatur High School student threatening Black people illustrated how we give every possible benefit of every possible doubt to white people and hold them to a very different standard than we hold Black people. By doing so, we not only prove Ta-Nehesi Coates’ point that “Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism towards others…,” we also reinforce the dangerous lessons of white supremacy and make our Black students and neighbors feel unheard, unseen, unvalued. Enough already. Personal racism and systemic racism can only end when people dismantle them. And it will take all of us to make it happen.
We are a group of white people in Decatur working to build competency and capacity around anti-racism work so that we can effectively contribute to the movement of challenging and dismantling the racist systems, practices, and institutions that exist in our own community. We know that white supremacy is deeply rooted in every one of us and in each of the systems meant to serve the citizens of this country – public safety, education, housing, justice, the economy, political systems, and more. Decatur and her people are no different, which poses a significant long-term threat to us all.
We are engaging in this work as members of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, which was founded to empower, advocate, educate, and organize people of African descent affected by systemic racism in the city of Decatur. By taking leadership from Black leaders and community members in Decatur and remaining accountable to them in our work, we can labor together to dismantle the systems that cause such deep harm to all of us who live here.
We simply cannot continue as usual. Among countless other examples, we believe that as long as Black children are punished while their white peers are not for the same offenses; as long as we continue to delay and dilute efforts toward affordable housing and allow unabated gentrification; as long as we ignore the displacement of our Black neighbors and therefore enable the destruction of the rich history and fabric of the city; as long as Black students are discouraged from taking advanced classes; as long as we racially profile our children and neighbors in businesses, in schools, and on the streets; as long as we reinforce false stereotypes and teach incomplete histories; as long as we ignore and are silent about racist language and racist behavior; as long as we continue to ignore the racist history of our city, we cannot continue to say “this is not who we are” – as a country, as a city, as a people. Until we do differently, this is exactly who we are.
You might ask: Can we really create lasting change? We know people have been working at this for years and have come together many times before to march, protest, organize, and mobilize. And yet here we still stand. What makes this time different? The answers to these questions are up to you. Join us. There is room for everyone to fight white supremacy and there are lots of ways to get involved.
If you find yourself ready to engage in this work in more meaningful ways, we would love to share resources and help connect you to the work already going on within Beacon Hill and in Decatur. There is much work to be done. We do not have all the answers, nor do we always get it right, but we have each been engaged in this work individually and collectively for many years, and we intend to remain involved for the rest of our lives.
To connect with us and the work, please email [email protected]
– Meagan Berardi, Gretchen D’Huyvetter Cobb, Adam Horowitz, Meridith Mason-Ward, and Paul McLennan
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