10 Days in the Throes of Racism

Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, YW Boston President & CEO

Over the last ten days, both the headlines and the YWCA Boston have been immersed in a polarized tug of racial issues, divides and efforts.

The Boston City Council, the most diverse ever, completed YWCA Boston’s 5-part interracial dialogues curriculum a little more than a week ago. Last week, the Council announced a symbolic measure to protest Arizona’s new immigration law which allows police to interrogate individuals based on their skin color and features. That in turn led to a flash fire of pundits’ criticisms and Boston media man-on-the-street interviews that themselves seemed biased in approach.

Across the Charles River, a prominent Harvard Law student’s e-mail comments about racial inferiority, while perhaps unscrupulously publicized, sent shockwaves across the country, revealing how even our most educated citizens could hold antiquated, hateful and . . . uneducated beliefs on race.

And at the very same time, as a counterpoint, more than 40 organizations and 2,500 people from all walks of life participated in YWCA Boston’s first annual Stand Against Racism, with public demonstrations promoting diversity, peace and justice.

Certainly, it was gratifying to see a rainbow of four hundred people locking arms and chanting “don’t teach it, don’t preach it, don’t let racism take root,” at our Stand’s Neighborhood Health Plan and United Way – sponsored Fort Point Channel Human Diversity Chain. It was equally deflating to hear a portfolio manager for one of Boston’s largest charitable foundations say with defeat in her voice that “there is nothing we can do to stop racism” at another event across town.

I would agree that there is nothing we can do to easily stop racism, but then nothing good and right is rarely easy, is it? Every day, we at YWCA Boston and our supporters work to make progress in the fight for peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

The image and hope of a little girl holding a sign saying “I love diversity” at our Arlington Stand last weekend serves as a bulwark against the news video of a Boston teen saying in response to Arizona’s new policing of citizens “if they can’t prove they can speak English then throw them out.”

A slew of hate mail responses to our anti-racism blog posts is balanced by supportive responses, and by an announcement from the TJX Foundation about its plans to support the expansion of our interracial dialogues program.

In a time when people have recently questioned whether “racism is dead,” with the election of Barack Obama, we don’t have to look past these last ten days to know that both racism is alive and well, and that efforts to see its demise are growing stronger each day.

In the midst of this maelstrom, where do you stand and what will you do?

I encourage you to take up our mission to eliminate racism and join us in our efforts. Being part of YWCA Boston is easy and flexible. You can join us for one of our interracial dialogues as a participant or facilitator, donate your time or resources to the expansion of our health disparities and civic engagement programs, attend our June 1st, annual women’s leadership luncheon featuring renowned racial sociologist and Spelman College President Dr. Beverly Tatum, or plan for the future and pre-register your company, church, college or social group for next year’s Stand Against Racism on April 29, 2011. Whatever you do, avoid complacency and do something. We cannot make this world a better place for our children and our children’s children without hard, earnest and meaningful work.