During an early August WISH editorial meeting, our newest writer suggested a story idea. He mentioned social justice groups had been canvassing Euclid (where the WISH Cleveland office is located) to help collect information about recent incidents of alleged police brutality in our community.
“Should we write about them?”
Within minutes, the conversation went from lighthearted to serious, and the energy in the room measurably shifted. Instead of contemplating our next article, we started discussing the most authentic way to talk about issues of racism and inequality. We went from wanting to discuss and confront injustice to wondering if we have the strength and experience to do it properly.
Below are a few paraphrased excerpts and reflections from that evening’s dialogue:
“Enough talk. I’m ready to see white people put their lives on the line, because that’s the fear I live with every day of my life. If all we’re doing is patting white people on the back for doing what’s right and sugarcoating issues so they’re acceptable to white ears . . .”
“Am I strong enough to do this work? Do I have a responsibility to keep trying, even when it’s hard? What damage will we do if we don’t tell these stories properly?”
“I think we need all the help we can get from white people. I have white, well-meaning friends who consider themselves progressive, and if they’re willing to speak up, then I want them to. I feel like black women have been saying this for years and no one is listening.”
“Who is getting left out of the conversations that are accessible to WISH Cleveland readers? So many nonprofits and developers say they want to make the city better, but they don’t talk to the people who experience the most marginalization/poverty/violence within the city. And when they do, they don’t want to make space for the authentic pain expressed by those people.”
“If we want to be an ally, we are only allies with permission. We are only helping when we are named by the disenfranchised as helpful. It is that mistake that I think many nonprofits and writers, in Cleveland or beyond, unintentionally make. We name ourselves as saviors assuming people want to be saved and not just empowered.”
“Change does not come without discomfort. Change requires discomfort. I think that racism can only end when white people engage in the (lifelong) process of unlearning our internalized racism. This includes writing about racism and what white people can do to end it.”
At WISH Cleveland, we’ll be unpacking this conversation for a while, and we hope you’ll join in by commenting below or chatting with us on social media.
You can also join us during the upcoming Euclid March for Peace, where members of the WISH team will be coming together with local community and faith leaders in peace and unity. This will be a first step toward inviting our neighbors and friends to help us turn honest dialogue into meaningful action.
Our mission is to write stories that change people, and it’s impossible to do that without being changed in the process. This includes taking responsibility for our collective and personal impact when we find ourselves in the middle of difficult conversations and controversial situations.
Can we talk about racism on WISH Cleveland?
We can, and we will.
And we hope you’ll keep listening and learning alongside us, until the voices of unity and justice replace the silence and complacency we’ve all lived with for too long.