(Randy Watkins is an associate professor of political science at Lansing Community College, chairman of the Mayor’s Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Council, member of the Mayor’s Racial Justice and Equity Alliance and the first vice president of the Lansing NAACP branch.)
When I was first asked to pen an opinion piece on racism in Greater Lansing, it was going to be optimistic. I had a belief that Lansing is not as “bad” as similarly sized cities. Growing up, I always heard that Lansing is subtle in how racism is practiced compared to other areas.
As I began to work on my draft, my intent was to provide a look at racism as a social construct — something invented so one group could feel superior over another, a means by which various myths could be perpetrated. However, an incident occurred that changed my direction.
So, do Greater Lansing residents want to move the dial? Do they want to see social equity?
I’m sure many do, but I’m not so optimistic. In any endeavor, people need to understand why it’s important to them and others. We can’t convince people to wear a face mask for their health and the health of others. How can we convince them to fight systemic racism?
I became further depressed when I read that 999 people were shot and killed by the police in 2020. We should all be outraged when one person is shot, but we’re not. We find ways to justify the shooting or say “they deserved it’’ because of the individual’s history. Reports state that 3.9 million guns were purchased in June 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.
My heart sank further.
So, is Lansing moving forward? Possibly. It is taking steps to recognize the problems and create solutions that should have been done years ago. Minorities are still unable to get home loans at the same rate of non-minorities. Black and brown drivers are still stopped and searched at a rate higher than non-black and brown drivers. We knew these things 10 years ago.
So why should this time be different?
One difference is the apparent recognition by the government that something finally needs to be done. The creation of the Mayor’s Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Council and the Racial Justice and Equity Alliance are steps in the right direction. Problems will be identified and solutions proposed, but the fundamental question remains: How do you convince residents this is a problem that affects all of us; and as such, that we all need to work on a solution?
You can provide training to city employees, but even they need to know why it’s important so the training is not just window dressing. Anyone who cares about the Lansing area needs to recognize that we are much better together. To achieve that, we have to be part of the solution.
However, we live in an age of misinformation and mistrust. How else do you explain the armed intrusion of the Capitol and attempted kidnapping of our governor and the insurrection in D.C.?
Truth needs to be told, no matter how painful. We may be more aware, but we are more fearful.
Our country is more fractured now than at any point I can remember. It would be easy to write a piece celebrating the achievements of Black Americans and how through many adversities they carried on, how Black and white leadership in Lansing is addressing the urgent issues facing us. The dial may have moved, and there may be more optimism. But we have been here before.
The key with any problem is identifying what the real problem is and what information you need to resolve that problem. Further, you have to be willing to take risks to resolve the problem. Compromise is a necessity. If you’re not willing to compromise, then all the protests, councils or alliances will amount to nothing. And we will be protesting again and asking how we got here.
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