MLK Day Racial Justice Community Experience and Conversation

Since December, a group of Boulder County youth and adults have been working on a research project to better understand how and why people engage in social justice work. The group used a process called Participatory Action Research (PAR) to guide their work. PAR is an approach to research that challenges and complicates ideas around who creates knowledge and for what purpose. By centering community and individual experiences as rich sources of information, PAR looks to build off of what we already know about ourselves and our community in order to create grassroots solutions to community identified issues. It is a strengths based, truama-informed, and community-led method for educating and engaging in civic and social justice work. Based off of the research, which included interviews, social media posts, school surveys, conversation, and arts-based explorations of race and racial justice movements, the researchers arrived at 11 claims:

  1. People are more likely to fight for the issues that affect them the most, and the more people understand about their personal stake in racial justice, the more passionate, engaged, and committed they are to working to resolve it
  2. Moral or ethical reasons for engaging in racial justice work often stem from pity rather than identifying one’s personal stake. This can lead to less authentic and sustainable commitment to the cause.
  3. People who do not understand how they are personally impacted by racial injustice are less likely to engage in racial justice work.
  4. Since white people are less likely to understand their personal stake in racial justice, people of color tend to have a greater burden of fixing the problem of racial injustice and racism.
  5. People are able to make a personal connection to racial justice work through other areas in their life where they experience marginalization. (For example, in our group, white queer* people and white females are more likely to participate in racial justice work along with people of color from all genders and sexual orientations.)
  6. Guilt can lead people, especially white people, to engage in racial justice work.
  7. Social movements tend to be focused on one cause that addresses one identity. Yet, as people we have multiple facets of our identities that affect one another. Therefore, it is important for social movements be inclusive of all aspects of people’s identities.
  8. Some people externalize racism and white supremacy by denying personal responsibility or by denying its existence.
  9. As a community, many fail to recognize the definition of  racism as not just the use of derogatory terms or segregation, but also the oppression or judgement passed on a person based solely on race, including micro-aggressions and systemic biases.
  10. In discussions surrounding racism, people often feel that if a person of their race is being attacked, then they are also being personally attacked, resulting in that person defending their ‘race’ and in turn themselves.
  11. We, as a community, need to acknowledge that conversation surrounding racism should one of racist vs. non racist rather than black vs. white.

The researchers also articulated a counter narrative to the dominant stories that we are subjected to through mainstream media and education:

We want to establish a counter narrative to society’s tendency to define and in many ways confine people’s identities. We want to be able to self-identify and have it be recognized by everyone. We also have identities that don’t fit into any box, and we want those to be represented and seen. We think we are beautiful the way we are. We DO care about the kid in our class who gets made fun of. Color Blindness and assimilation are not the solution because there’s beauty in cultural diversity. We want to love ourselves for who we really are, and we want others to do the same. We don’t want to be limited in what we can or want to do in the world because of socially assigned identities, we want all of our complex selves to be visible and valued in our diverse cultures.

The students are still deciding how their research will drive future actions.

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