ON THE SCENE: The next steps for justice reform, fighting racism

June, 2020

Protests for justice reform and giving Blacks especially, but all minorities, equal access and opportunities have not decreased in the Adirondacks or elsewhere across the country.

Indeed, the second protest at the bottom of Spruce Hill in Keene attracted more than the first one held two weeks ago. But what’s the next step? What’s the “hard work” that needs to be done to make all people feel welcome, safe, and have the chance to live to their fullest potential?

Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” suggests that as a first step, we should face our racial history and racial present, then reimagine and fight for social and economic justice.

Slavery, one group of people forcing another to do its bidding, has been a part of the human history for a long time, especially in societies where there was social stratification such as in ancient China, Egypt, Greece, Japan and Mesopotamia, and in the Americas with the Aztecs, Incas, Pawnee, and Comanche among others.

When the Europeans first arrived, it was not to explore the wonders of the world but to find a shorter, cheaper route to the Far East’s spices and other commodities. Though thwarted in achieving that goal, they soon discovered other assets such as gold, silver, sugarcane and tobacco. Initially, the Europeans forced the natives to work filling their coffers. But, as smallpox that came with them started decimating the locals in droves, the Europeans quickly turned to ship in slaves from Africa. Doing so, they laid down an economic foundation upon which the growing society was built, as well as an ingrained sense of entitlement of their culture being more important, more worthy than any other (consider the meaning of “Manifest Destiny”).

When Dr. C. Everett Koop first hired me, the director of his Institute at the Dartmouth Medical School was a retired captain in the U.S. Navy. He told me that the Navy spent a great deal of time selecting the first crew and command for any new ship as they would establish the culture of the ship, a culture that would be extremely difficult to change if any problems arise down the road.

Our challenge in addressing racism is that it’s been a core ingrained aspect of our culture since the first Europeans arrived. Today racism’s manifested in voter suppression, a far greater number of Blacks and brown-skinned Americans filling our jails than their percentage of population warrants, and Blacks being institutionally disadvantaged in every economic, educational and health aspect of our society. For us, who live in a tourism-based economy, creating a more welcoming environment will require addressing access, equity and diversity head-on.

Raul “Rocci” Aguirre, director of conservation at the Adirondack Council, feels while maintaining public pressure through protests and other means is valuable, seeking help from professionals who are trained in helping communities address diversity issues is the best way forward.

“As I’ve been telling people, now is the time to transform intent into action,” said Aguirre. “It’s about community leadership owning what comes next.”

Read the full article in the Lake Placid News