This article first appeared in the Massachusetts Peace Action newsletter, Fall 2015, published on August 20, 2015.
Video records of murders of unarmed black people by the police, the massacre of 9 black people at a church prayer meeting by an avowed white supremacist, and the arrest on video and subsequent death in jail of Sandra Bland following her failure to signal a lane change are some of the events of the past year that have demonstrated the brutality of racism in the United States.
Many of us are stunned by these events and many are organizing against institutional racism. The Black Lives Matter movement, born after the killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin in 2013, is organizing with increasing effectiveness to demand human and civil rights for black people and recognition of their platform by presidential candidates.
At February’s Annual Meeting, Massachusetts Peace Action members heard from Rev. Osagyefo Sekou about his work with young Black Lives Matter leaders and from Carl Williams, ACLU Staff Attorney, and Lizzie Jean Padgett, organizer with Deep Abiding Love, who led a workshop on institutional racism in our criminal justice system.
Since the Annual Meeting, interested members of Peace Action have formed a reading group, which is focusing on the topic “Racism and Peace.” Readings have focused on the history of African American organization for peace, anti-racism, and white privilege. The group is reading African Americans Against the Bomb, by Vincent Intondi, has read an article by Michael McPhearson, Executive Director of Veterans for Peace, “Deepening Anti-racism Work in the Peace Movement,” and two articles by Peggy McIntosh: “White People Facing Race,” and “White Privilege, Color, and Crime: a Personal Account.”
The use of racism to manipulate people around economic and political outcomes, including war, in North America stems from the establishment by law of white privilege in the British colonies; this laid the foundation for white supremacist thinking. Howard Zinn, in his piece “The Bombs of August”, noted the “500 year assault on colored people of the world” by western powers including, among others, the British, King Leopold of Belgium, and the atomic bombings of the United States with its atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Peggy McIntosh, in examining evidence of white privilege, notes racism operating during WW 2 when Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps and German Americans were not.
“This web of racism” is a phrase used by black poet Claudia Rankine in talking about her 2015 book Citizen, which addresses interpersonal racism. It is a lyrical recounting of daily conversational microaggressions experienced by Rankine and other people of color. While not evidence of hatred or bigotry, such microagressions thoughtlessly send demeaning messages to a person because of color. Rankine points out that anyone of any skin color can commit these verbal aggressions and she gives us the remedy: to apologize.
MAPA has set the goal of integrating racial justice work into its peace movement and of building a more diverse membership. Hopefully our Racism and Peace reading group is a step in developing a learning community in MAPA that will, in an ongoing way, address interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism and foster a flourishing, multi-racial, anti-racist peace movement.
Such a broad and vital foundation could help to build the power needed to restructure our political and economic system and to support a Foreign Policy for All and a Budget for All, so that peace is, indeed, possible.