(Dana Watson was appointed last year to the East Lansing City Council, becoming the city’s first Black member. Watson, a Michigan State University graduate, is an Ingham County Health Department educator.)
Do you ever look around rooms and become acutely aware of what the makeup says about our systems? When there is a lack of representation, does systemic racism make it OK to maintain business as usual? If people that look like me are not at the table, who decides?
The city of East Lansing declared racism a public health crisis. The health and economic impacts of racism, not race, remain on repeat.
Systems have been deeply rooted in racism. Our resolutions speak to this. Therefore, doing different means creating systems that were not here before, asking questions that were barely being asked and demanding the end to practices and systems that left people of color behind.
We have an open canvas of parts to be interrupted. In thinking about East Lansing’s progress, while I began protesting in the summer, our city had already secured our first diversity, equity and inclusion administrator, Elaine Hardy. She is leading us toward equitable, anti-racist practices and actions. After my appointment with fellow Council member Ron Bacon, he became the Council liaison for a study committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission. They are in the middle of looking at parts of our systems and making space for a community to have an equitable voice about the practices that public tax dollars support.
Next, our Human Rights Commission works diligently to recognize groups and call out or alter parts of East Lansing that have systems that lack equity.
Finally, Hardy leads efforts to begin diversity, equity and inclusion training for the City of East Lansing.
I witnessed a summer of white allies genuinely standing up. More books and articles on allyship are being read. Just as the military can’t be the only people advocating for the military, people of color cannot be the only people advocating for people of color. Silence is acceptance.
Either you stand with racial equity, or you are part of the problem.
We can keep the ball rolling in big and small ways. We use our power for racial equity. Your power can lie in the story you tell, the people you support, where your money goes, the business doors that you choose to walk through, whom your money comes from, your voice and your time.
I like the checks and balances that our commissions, grassroots organizations, individuals and staff bring to the table. Active listening with an equity lens will lead to an attentiveness to racial justice. We will be moving from problematic practices to progressive change.
Acknowledging our racist system feels bad, but we must keep working to improve data on race in systems. How else do we recognize we are failing entire groups without looking at these numbers? We do understand now why this data might not have been collected or made available. Data can tell different stories when it is broken down by race.
We’ll keep the ball rolling because decisionmakers, leaders and our community keep asking the harder questions and checking the work. Our grassroots groups have expert ideas on change and ways to keep this going. And let’s support our youth voices and actions, like taking a knee or writing a profound essay, and provide them a seat at the table.
Making intentional space for wealth and opportunity is complicated, but I won’t give up. I spend time looking toward groups that are making these achievements, and I also believe in my own community spearheading best practices. I look for more equity in our booming marijuana business. Also, implementing intentional access to wealth for Black and brown people in varying degrees with varying sectors is economic progress for Greater Lansing. In conclusion, we’ll gain more momentum, as we change more angles and recreate polices that reduce or eliminate the racial disparities woven into our nation.