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Reflections on this moment in history

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Nancy Reichman

CWC Research Director

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8 minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd and in honor of all those affected by police violence.  

Over the past several weeks I have been writing about the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified barriers to economic opportunity for women and their families and suggested ways to re-think our policies and practice. I do so from my position of privilege and prolonged passion. I identify as white, she/her/hers, Jewish, and I am a retired Professor in Criminology and Sociology who has spent decades exploring questions of gender inequity and advocating for a more equitable future. 

As memorials are being held to honor the memory of George Floyd, today I choose, instead, to take a pause from my usual form of teaching and writing to chart a course of action based on learning and listening.  This blog is constructed around a set of questions that I am asking myself: Am I listening with an open mind and an open heart?  What can I do to listen better?  What changes am I prepared to make?

Like so many of you, I suspect, I respond to challenges by jumping in. Sometimes that means attempting to fix a problem before I fully understand it. That is not always a bad thing. The precautionary principle in environmental justice argues that when there are reasonable threats of irreversible damage, the lack of absolute certainty about the cause of a problem should not be a reason to postpone cost-effective means to start doing something about it. In other words, some problems need to be addressed even when the roots of a problem are complex, hard to disentangle, and so embedded in everyday practice that it is hard to imagine the path forward.  Sometimes we need to start—jump in without hesitation and do what you think is right and helpful. Pain and suffering cannot always wait. Other times we need to get out of the way—to  center other folks’ vision of what is called for, and follow their lead. Today is that “other time” for me.

I am inspired by those who today again take to the streets to defend Black lives, to demand justice and to warn us once again that racism is our nation’s original sin. This warning stirs up a second set of questions I’m wrestling with.  Reflecting on our privilege and raising our voices will certainly not be enough. Reform will not go the distance, unless we also re-think some of our basic institutions, like the police, from the bottom up? Can a system built on racism, or patriarchy for that matter, ever escape its legacy?

We need disruption. We need transformational change. We need equity. But, given our history, our frames, and our experiences, can we imagine an equitable world without being willing to listen to others’ visions for the future? I don’t think so. 

Today, and for at least the next month, I commit to doing a minimum of 8 minutes and 46 seconds of intentional work on anti-racism every single day. It’s my starting point. I will chart a personal course of action in solidarity with those doing the very hard work of dismantling systems of oppression. It will involve a bit of book learning (that is what academics do!), some active listening, and finding new ways to use my talents in support of those on the frontlines creating pathways to a more equitable world.

Among other things, I will reflect on ways that I am complicit in racist systems and, then, push myself beyond feelings of shame and guilt for that complicity so that I can make changes in my life as a teacher, a scholar, advocate, mother, wife, and friend. I will actively work to center the voices and experiences of those most affected by state policies, such as policing, but also health, education, housing and economic opportunity. I will also give my time and treasure to organizations, led by black, indigenous, and people of color, who are at the epicenter of the fight for transformational change.

I am grateful for the opportunity to share these reflections in this moment. I would love to hear how you would spend your 8 minutes and 46 seconds every day if you were working on anti-racism. Please post a comment on our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter sites, or send us a PM.

Be well.