Last weekend, Portia, my son’s first grade teacher, was shopping at a convenience store in Seattle with her husband and young daughter when a woman followed her inside. Here’s what happened next:
She followed us in the store and then started saying, “Get out of here, you don’t belong here.” She continued to follow us around, saying things like, “You screw up the system, get out of here.” At this point, (my daughter) was confused and scared and hid behind (her Dad).
Another woman walked in and saw what was going on. She hugged Portia and said “Don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe.”
Portia is a Filipina American who has taught in Seattle schools for more than a decade. She is a beloved figure for so many families like mine whose lives she has touched. Portia’s Facebook post about her experience drew more than 300 responses; expressions of sympathy, horror, sorrow and support.
This is our country today and all of us at Resource Media are struggling to come to terms with it. I had originally intended this blog to be a communications-filtered analysis of the path forward for our suite of progressive issues.
Instead I find myself sitting here with tears in my eyes struggling to find the right words.
What is required of me as a white man to leverage my privileges to support those who are vulnerable? What is required of Resource Media, a team of skilled communicators, to tap into our talents to help alter the landscape of bigotry and intolerance that the election laid bare?
Over the last week, one thing has become clear to me. It is more important than ever to stand up and be counted, over and over and over. Resource Media stands in absolute solidarity with marginalized and disenfranchised communities. We know that actions speak louder than words and expect to be held accountable for both. I have been heartened by the actions of my colleagues here at Resource Media, who have responded to this election by calling their elected officials, hosting workshops, showing up at rallies and donating money to allies girding for a long fight to protect the most vulnerable among us.
I also believe that establishing relationships based on trust to build long-term power is more important than ever. This is not new work, but it is work that is in danger of being shoved to the back burner as advocacy-oriented nonprofits shift into defense mode in order to fight drastic changes to the policies we hold near and dear. From laws that protect immigrants to our commitment to fighting the multiple threats of climate change—everything is now at stake.
Defense is important, of course, but offense is equally so. I have been greatly influenced during this period of soul searching by a book that was published earlier this year but reads to me like an election post-mortem. Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority, by Steve Phillips, makes the argument that a New American Majority comprised of people of color and progressive whites already exists. It just needs to be actualized. Phillips writes:
Failing to recognize that they already have a multiracial majority and that the smarter, more cost-effective approach would be to nurture that existing majority, progressives…have tended to make decisions around policy and politics through the prism of “How will White swing voters react?”
I fear this very miscalculation is happening as advocates dive into the bunker to survive an onslaught of the laws and protections accomplished through previous hard work and sacrifice. Defend we must. And there’s no long-term better defense than working to galvanize the majority that Phillips identifies to push the policy changes we seek.
Those of us who are white need to send a strong message to other whites looking for a scapegoat; that oppression based on race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion or sexual orientation is simply unacceptable and non-negotiable. To quote Martin Luther King, “Those who passively accept evil are as much involved in it as those who help to perpetrate it.” If that makes the white swing voter more of a mirage than ever, so be it. The numbers are ultimately on our side. We owe it to Portia and the millions of others who contribute to the wonderful multicultural tapestry in this country to never let that notion fade in the name of short-term political expediency.