A message to POC activists for racial justice: Words from Teddy

Teddy Burrage is a Portland, Maine, native and local activist and organizer. When he’s not writing or working, you can usually find him exploring Maine’s vast interior and coastline.

As POC who are organizing and strategizing for racial justice, we face outside criticism on a regular basis, but sometimes challenges and divisiveness happen among ourselves as we try our best to shape the conversation. Legitimate fears of the whitewashing of the movement, coupled with varying political affiliations and ideologies, makes figuring out what’s helpful and what’s not a challenging process. To add insult to injury, the nation is now led by a man and political party whose racist rhetoric has reached an unsettling intensity. In spite of these fears and challenges, it’s imperative that we find our own strengths and empower our fellow justice seekers to find theirs.

To be successful, this movement needs people with a spectrum of different abilities, politics, and methods:

We need activists like Mara Willaford and Marissa Johnson who courageously shut down a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle last year.

We need leaders like Congressman John Lewis whose activism began with sit-ins and Freedom Rides, but who now works in the lower chamber where he shakes hands with the opposition and provides a principled voice in government.

We need revolutionaries to shut down business as usual through civil disobedience and we need advocates in our institutions who are sympathetic to those protests.

We need people who are experts in the system we have now, visionaries of the systems we seek in the future, and intermediaries to help with the transition.

Telling other activist that they are not diplomatic enough, disruptive enough, radical enough, moderate enough, or black enough is to the detriment of our cause. This is not to say we should avoid critical examination of strategies and methods. We should just do so under the assumption that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Even though changing the system from the inside sounds impossible (and it very well may be), we still need spokespeople endowed with institutional power in there working to beating back our opponents. And even though many people say uprisings are counterproductive and ineffective, history tells us otherwise.

Let’s not look at ourselves through a monolithic lens in the same way many white people do. We are socialists, independents, social democrats, and anarchists. We are agitators, negotiators, politicians, and community leaders.

For those of us who have the luxury or unavoidable imperative to pursue justice, there is one common thread we share, though: a commitment to confront and dismantle racism while moving forward toward an end to oppression in all of its forms.

What is seen as acceptable public discourse has taken a violent turn for the worse. The KKK is back in the street, churches are being torched again, and racist vandalism and violence has become commonplace. In a time when overt racism has returned to the mainstream—promoted by a dangerous, egotistical demagogue—we must resist from every possible angle, using all of the tools in the kit, while at same time discarding our own divisive and undermining attitudes.
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