Diversity educator Jane Elliott met with York County via Facebook Live this week to answer questions about how the community can work against racism and move toward inclusion.
The Parliament Arts Organization and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission partnered for the event titled “The Eye of Prejudice 2020” and funded by several leading community organizations.
Elliott gained national status in 1992 after an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in which she led the audience through a “Brown Eyes – Blue Eyes” exercise that brought to the stage our biases.
Diversity educator Jane Elliott met with York County via Facebook Live this week to answer questions about how the community can work against racism and move toward inclusion. (Photo: Submitted)
Her appearance marks another step in the community’s work in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing and high-profile local incidents of racism. That work involves heightening awareness about discrimination and identifying ideas for inclusion in York County.
“Hurricane Jane ripped into the dam that divides us and holds us back,” Matt Jackson, one of the event organizers, said after the Elliott appearance. “Now it’s our turn to tear down the whole damn dam so waters of rights, respect and responsibility can flow forth.”
Elliott provided many candid insights in 90 minutes of questions and answers, and social media discussions afterward raised equally provocative ideas.
Here are five takeaways from the Elliott presentation with the after-event Facebook discussion included:
We’re all one race
Elliott argued that we’re all one race, emerging from one place in Africa.
When one gets this, she said, arguments over different colors of skin have no consequence.
“Every one of you is a shade of brown,” she said.
Education big part of solution
The former elementary school teacher was tough on educators, seeing changes in education as necessary for equity and inclusion.
“You end it in the educational institutions,” she said. “Because that’s where you spend the most money, and that’s where you can make the biggest difference.”
If you want to change things, she said, you have to change the system. That includes abandonment of textbooks that aren’t racially inclusive and classroom maps that emphasize America’s geography and minimize the presence of other countries.
She held top administrators and principals responsible — and teachers.
For example, she said, administrators should tell teachers that if they make a racist joke, they will be terminated. Then act on that when racial incidents arise, irrespective of the position of unions.
More: How we can close the gap, gain equity and ensure York moves forward
A simple step to take
Elliott pointed her audience to an exercise on her website, janeelliot.com, that involves a typical statement and a clarification to that statement.
Here’s an example:
Statement: “Other ethnic groups had to struggle. Why is it so different for the Blacks?”
Clarification: “Shows a deep ignorance of the special deprivations suffered by Black people by Whites.”
The exercise also contains a list of questions that Elliott urged the audience to work through immediately.
For example, “Have I aggressively sought out more information in an effort to enhance my own awareness and understanding of racism (talking with others, reading, listening)?” and “Have I openly confronted a racist comment, joke, or action among those around me?”
Resources to review
Elliott recommended several publications to the audience as part of her answers.
Here are some examples: Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law,” Ellis Cose’s “The Rage of a Privileged Class,” Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny” and Robert Wald Sussman’s “The Myth of Race.”
The 90-minute Elliott presentation in York is available on YouTube. The Q and A starts at the 8:30 mark.
Discussion took place on the Parliament’s Facebook page during the presentation.
And a healthy social media discourse continued the next day.
One Facebook post — from community leader Richard Craighead – explored the community’s bringing forth a white woman, Elliott, to tell Black people what they’ve been trying to tell white people “for our entire existences.” And a white woman was employed to tell white people how not to be racists.
“A brash, no nonsense, blunt white women was the comfortable option to give such a large platform to talk about race issues and what can be done,” he wrote.
“While being informative, it rests deeply in the race issues York city/county already permeates through its people.”
Commenters agreed with Craighead that Black women and men from York could have done the job.
Other commenters felt that white voices are not loud enough in the battle against racism, and it’s a good thing for white people to witness a white person standing against discrimination and racism.
Near the end of the discussion, another respected community member, Tonya Larry, thanked Craighead for speaking up: “ … (A) lot of people feel the same way but are afraid to be challenged.”
My own view
The Elliott appearance should be seen as another step in the right direction in escalating the fight against racism and for inclusion in York County. It’s a fight that demands many different voices.
The points made by Elliott in the after-event Facebook discussion that white people need to step up is convicting.
Crispus Attucks’ Bobby Simpson’s words in a York Daily Record op-ed piece in June often come to mind and resonate in this discussion about four months later.
He was speaking to young Black leaders in his guest column, urging them to stay focused on the “real problems that are confronting our neighborhoods.”
But he also challenged white people.
“We as Black people cannot solve racism,” he said. “That’s the job of committed and compassionate white people to tackle, and, thanks to the new breed of young white youth, there is hope, and I see that beginning to happen.”
The 2nd of 3 conversations moderated by Jasmine Vaughn-Hall. Protests recently unfolded in York County, but what’s next? Panelists: Ikysha Jones and Tzipporah Goins.
York Daily Record
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