If you’ve been following our blog for the last little while, you’ll have noticed that Greenlining turned 25 this year, and that we’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on our history and accomplishments. I’ve been thinking about Greenlining as an organization, and I’ve also been thinking about my work at Greenlining, and what it’s been like to be a white person who works at a people of color-led organization. The short answer is, it’s been fantastic. Not just the work—which I love—but the opportunities for my own growth and to confront my own privilege. During all this introspection, I realized that I need to call myself (and other white people) out.
You see, when progressive white people talk about issues of race, whether with other white people or people of color, we almost always focus on the struggles of communities of color—issues of oppression, economic equity, police brutality, and the like. It’s never a good feeling when I catch myself doing this—in fact, I think it’s a pretty strong sign of my white savior complex rearing its head. It’s got to be terrible for the listener, too–imagine having a friend or coworker who, every time they talked to you, only talked about the terrible things that have happened to your community.
When white people only talk about the struggles that people of color face, we leave out an enormously important part of the conversation—the joy, and solidarity, and strength of being a person of color. One of the greatest things about working at Greenlining is that I’ve gotten to listen in on some amazing conversations—conversations about family and relationships, about elders and mentors, about food, music, dance and art. Those conversations are beautiful, and inspirational, and it’s sad to think that a lot of people will never get to hear them.
Our nation’s long history of racism is interwoven into our nation’s policies, and as much as white people oppose redlining or mass incarceration or voter suppression, we have to admit that those policies have been at least partially responsible for our achievements. Accordingly, we have a responsibility to remedy that injustice. But it’s not enough to eliminate systems of oppression—it’s just as important that we acknowledge, and celebrate, the talents, successes, and pride of communities of color.
Paul Goodman is Greenlining’s Interim Telecommunications Director. Follow Paul on Twitter.