The Detroit Equity Action Lab, Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit Jews for Justice, Focus: HOPE and SURJ Southeast Michigan hosted an interactive discussion and moderated the panel titled Get Your People: The Role of White People in Ending Racism on Sept. 26 at the Detroit Historical Museum.
The panel for the event consisted of Samantha Magdaleno the director of One Michigan for the Global Majority and a Detroit Equity Action Lab (DEAL) fellow; Dr. Peter Hammer, the director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights; Tawana Petty, an author, poet, anti-racism social justice organizer and DEAL fellow; Julia Cuneo, Metro Detroit SURJ Action Committee member and the discussion was moderated by Dessa Cosma, a DEAL fellow and social justice organizer.
Piper Carter, a DEAL fellow, said the interactive discussion and moderated panel was in the works when racially-charged incidents—like mass murderer Dylann Roof, the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville and more recently the defacing of a dorm building at the University of Michigan with racist language on Sept. 17—happened, making the event even more timely.
Cosma began the discussion by asking volunteers to come up and read a list of terms from a handout provided by the organizers. Racism, privilege, white fragility, and Allies were a few of the terms listed.
Cosma said, “It is important to understand the language” when talking about and acting on behalf of racial justice. The purpose of this event was to, “teach white people how to be allies without doing harm to the very people they are trying to help in the process.”
Racism, gentrification, interpersonal oppression, and white privilege were among the topics discussed at the event.
Cosma asked the panel several questions about having conversations with white people about racism, techniques to use when confronting deniers of racism and how white people should behave to further racial and social justice.
Petty said ending racism begins with facing the issue head-on because recognizing racism as an issue is vital considering the threat is posed to people of color.
“We must start from the point of acknowledgment that racism exists,” Petty said. Cuneo added, “Anyone in this day and age that says they don’t believe racism exists, is a racist.”
As an ally, Cuneo said, “Be clear in your mind about why you are having these conversations.”
She said that the system that allows people to be racist and feel that they can get away with it has to be dismantled. “You can’t be a part of these systems and not say anything.”
“It’s not your job to address these white folks, that’s their job,” Samantha Magdaleno, a Wayne State alumna, said to the people of color in the room. “That is the job of an ally.”
Asha Noor, a racial justice activist and outreach director at Care Michigan, said, “Often times people of color are tasked with having these conversations which depletes our resources and energy as well as being triggering and traumatic.”
The ideal behavior of white people in social justice is one’s willingness to be vulnerable, take the lead from others, show up and acknowledge what they don’t know and haven’t done, said Hammer.
Shaffwan Ahmed, a WSU alumna, said this discussion was just as relevant to WSU students as it is to the community in which the campus is located because “a lot of non-persons of color are moving into this diverse city and taking over with no respect for the current residents or understanding of the underlying racism that went into creating the environment they now claim as their own.”
The discussion ended with a call to action from Petty who said racism plus neutrality only further enforces the notion that this is an issue for people of color only.
“Black people and people of color are not the only ones who have to risk their lives in this struggle.”