by Paulette T. Cross, Ph.D.
Transitional Housing Economic Empowerment Specialist, YWCA Salt Lake City
If someone or anyone had responded to the Trayvon Martin incident, perhaps he would still be alive today. Response methods are critical in doing “social justice” work. When do you respond? What do you say? What if the intervention is wrong? Or, what constitutes whether or not response or intervention is the right thing to do? To address these types of inquiries, one has to understand the notion of racism and its impact on society in the U.S.. Therefore, it is not only incumbent upon everyone to participate in social justice work, but also it is critical to understand the historical roles of race and racism in the U.S. Once this knowledge is rooted, it inevitably provides a foundation – a way in which ordinary people can begin to participate in the social justice movement for equity and equality for all.
The Salt Lake City YWCA has embarked on providing anti-discrimination response trainings that begin to unravel the underlying myths that support racist and discriminatory attitudes. More specifically, these trainings explain, direct and introduce us to responses that address discriminatory actions. The training is critical, because the notion of racism surfaces through unsuspecting scenarios that becomes identifiable among those who would argue that they are not racist; however, their actions betray them. I would argue that George Zimmerman, before becoming Trayvon Martin’s alleged perpetrator, probably did not consider himself a racist or a detriment to society.
Finally, the Trayvon Martin case contradicts the myth that we live in a “post-racist society” in the U.S., and more importantly exemplifies and the age-old adage that “racism is alive and well”. This translates to the question of how do we counter racism with anti-discriminatory actions? The Salt Lake City YWCA’s Racial Justice Task Force has set its agenda on racial justice through events such as the YWCA’s national Stand Against Racism by presenting a Week Without Racism April 27 through May 4, 2012. Throughout the week, a variety of events will be ongoing — such as films, discussions, poetry and literature readings, and financial empowerment activities — to begin conversations and promote understanding about racism, discrimination and oppression. The project exercises consciousness-raising, not only among YWCA employees, but also becomes a campus-wide event as it includes residents, volunteers and their families.
Paulette T. Cross is the Transitional Housing Economic Empowerment Specialist for the Salt Lake City YWCA. She has 20+ years of leadership roles in government, non-profits and academia. Currently, she holds a leadership role in the Racial Justice Task Force in the Salt Lake City YWCA, and she facilitates trainings and advises residents on education, employment, housing and finances.
This post is part of the YWCA Stand Against Racism blog carnival on issues of race, justice and diversity. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism.