Editor's Note: This is a monthly educational series about racism. Contributors include Donna Hight, Beth Castle, Margaret Lin, Deanna West-Torrence, Renda Cline, Tiffany Mitchell, Crystal Davis Weese, Brigitte Coles and Amy Hiner.
On Aug. 4, Mansfield City Council President Cliff Mears cast the tie-breaking vote to vote down the resolution on systemic racism as a public health crisis. Mears rejected the notion of systemic racism.
"This infers an organized, planned, and deliberate organization that sets out to exhibit blatant racism. Again, I see no evidence of that. Not here. Not in my Mansfield," he said.
Systemic racism is historical, and the systems still exist in blatant and subtle ways. This racism pre-dates us, even in Mansfield and Richland County, and it is still very real. The United States has a long history of institutional, legalized racial discrimination, such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, “separate but equal” schools and prohibitions on voting or owning land.
Over time these systemic practices look different though they are by no means repaired—slavery gave way to privatized incarceration and labor practices that still resemble slavery. Separate but equal schools gave way to schools that are still separate and now unequal based on neighborhoods and where community wealth resides. Prohibitions on voting gave way to district gerrymandering and strict rules that still make voting impossible. So while one person refuses to see it, it does not mean it does not exist for those who live with the impact of systemic racism every day of their lives.
For as long as I can remember, I knew I was receiving two distinctly different educations—the education that I received at school (in a rural local community) and the one that I inherited from my family, community and spiritual leaders. Both my mother and father were avid readers, and they found every occasion to share with me and my siblings all their learned information.
From my mother we learned of distant lands, fabrics, fashion and jewels worn by the elite, how to sew, cook and appreciate art created by artists that looked like us. My father, the historian, shared all the information of our ancestors that had been erased from the history books I read in class. He shared anthologies of Harlem Renaissance writers, artists and poets. It was the norm for my father to drill me on the inventions and contributions of Black inventors, scholars and freedom fighters. They both made sure that we understood our history and value.
As I now reflect back on those conversations, I realize the value of what my parents gave me. They handed me the capacity to create my own freedom from the oppressive and incomplete curriculum that plagues the educational system; freedom from the oppressive false narratives I would be asked to regularly digest; freedom as I navigated a society that has a long history of erasing the contributions of people who look like me.
As a parent, talking to my children about racism came naturally. Like my parents, I deliberately infused culturally rich experiences into their lives and encouraged them to embrace people of all backgrounds. Recently when some in Mansfield spoke of how wonderful “their Mansfield” is, they do not see the places of privilege from which they speak, because this is not the Mansfield I have experienced as a Black woman.
Throughout my life I found school systems, organizations and places of employment to be lacking adequate resources that provided safe racial identity environments. Not one system in my experience effectively addressed threats of racism or discrimination, nor did they share the richness of knowledge that my parents had shared with me growing up. I know firsthand how those insufficient resources created consequences in my life, along with the effects on the Black/Brown community that is "my Mansfield." What we all too often fail to realize that in not knowing the stories of one another, we don’t honor that how we experience a place can be vastly different for each of us based on privilege.
I have always encouraged uncomfortable conversations without judgment, and it has been through these conversations that eight amazing and diverse women that I call friends collaborated on explaining the impacts of systemic racism on public and individual health.
Our conversations and groundwork for the declaration started long before the social unrest we experienced with George Floyd’s death and the many that have since followed and continue.
Our work has not begun to defund police rather to help provide insight for ways that our county and city officials, organizations, employers, schools and community would learn and generate trauma relieving resources in an effort to create new community assets that serve a diverse Mansfield and Richland County. To declare racism a public health issue was an effort to:
Bring awareness to previously established routines and practices that have never been effective.
Create a task force to create new assets and strength-based perspectives that reduce the experiences of racial trauma and build a community that reaffirms the personhood of everyone.
Be more intentional by creating inclusivity for those whose needs are not typically addressed by the privilege of higher socioeconomic status and white racial identity.
Considering this very challenging time of social unrest, it is crucial to put forth intentional and well-planned efforts to alleviate racial tension and disparity. I know that the commitment to social justice cannot take shape in a declaration; it must be practiced, developed and should be implemented in daily agendas. I also know that only through effective community leadership can we cultivate an inclusive community that becomes a Mansfield that belongs to all of us rather than those so privileged to not see the stark realities behind the curtain of their Mansfield.
"In My Mansfield Being a Black Woman" makes me feel like a graceful warrior, because often attacks on the characters of my beautiful Black children, father, mother, brothers, uncles, aunts and cousins is exhausting and painful. It’s important that I am this graceful warrior. I understand that I must fight to protect, teach, strengthen and educate the whole human community.
“In My Mansfield Being a Black Mother of a Black Son and Daughter” means waking up and falling asleep wondering what it’s like to never have to worry about the day you become the reason a protest starts. It’s being afraid that I have raised them to be leaders who question, respectfully challenge and think critically. Because they are all these things, I wonder if I have placed a bullseye on their backs? What makes me no different than any other mother is we all love our families deeply and want safety, education, equality and fairness for our children.
What I fear most “In My Mansfield” is our ignoring the existing race issue because some want to believe it is not real because they don’t live it. Continued support of systematic practices, intentional or unintentional, harms our community. Racism is a driving force of the social determinants of health, housing, education and employment. Inadequacies in any of these areas is a barrier to health equity.
"In My Mansfield" we must stop unraveling the mending that was started in the past and have modern solutions for a growing city. I don’t want my grandchildren to face the same ugly issues of race that we fought so hard to change.
What I know "In My Mansfield" is that there are some men and women who have made a deliberate choice to not accept systematic oppression for anyone! I know that there are community members working together to eradicate discriminating practices in all forms for all people. I love that many of us are ready for change. I love that some have been activated to run for office.
In My Mansfield—be aware change is on the horizon! Change will come despite the rose colored glasses of some. I will be the change I wish to see. My sisters and brothers will be the change we wish to see. Nothing will dissuade those of us who see the possibility not of what Mansfield has been, rather of what it can be for each and every one of us.