Reckoning with racism

06/10/2020

With protests against entrenched racial injustice sweeping the nation, the plight of black people in the United States of America has been amplified. In Marin County, where the median income is $124,000 and the average home costs over $1 million, African-Americans represent just 3 percent of the population. Alongside our news coverage of the protests, the Light talked to two black people in our community to understand their experience and perspective.

Equity and fairness

Raemona Little Taylor, the branch manager of West Marin’s four libraries, makes equity her central focus because it reflects her life experience. Both of her parents were teachers in Tennessee for 40 years, and they instilled in her at a young age that everyone has a right to a good education. Raemona grew up in a diverse and conservative area. “Personally, I’ve seen inequities that exist along the lines of race and income,” she said. “More broadly, I’m informed by the way in which the world operates.” She moved from Tennessee three years ago to work at the Marin County Free Library, and she said her experience being black in Marin has been varied. For the most part, people are welcoming, although sometimes people seem surprised to see her because there are so few African-Americans around. She said her 6-year-old daughter experienced racism when another child made an insensitive comment about the color of her skin. The teachers at the after-school program where it happened took the incident seriously, and Raemona was proud because her daughter defended herself, saying that the comment was wrong and that she was proud of her skin color. Raemona’s partner is white, and they talk about race with their biracial child often. They read books and watch movies that celebrate not only black culture, but all cultures, because they want their daughter to grow up seeing the world through many different lenses. They help her understand that race may influence how people see her, and that she is descended from strong ancestors who survived a lot in this country. “Just telling her that it was unfair, her age group can understand that,” Raemona said. “Children are great proponents of fairness.” Indeed, as she watches what is happening in the nation, she sees how much people can learn from children about fairness. She feels cautious hope about the movement because people outside of the black community are now seeing the issues African-Americans face and are working to make change that will benefit everyone. It’s the latest phase in the quest for justice for all, she said.

A torch for harmony

Ethan Minor, who sits on the board of the Shoreline Unified School District and has an African-American father, has thought about what he would do if he had been present while George Floyd was being killed. Ethan is a lifelong martial artist and a trained fighter, so he feels confident in his physical skills. But meeting violence with violence doesn’t add up to a positive outcome, he said. He would have approached the officer in the same way he would talk to someone who is suffering from a mental breakdown or a psychedelic opening. “You can’t just grab them. You have to build rapport, you have to have them trust you—so it’s not you versus that person, it’s you with that person,” he said. “I wouldn’t go around and tell everyone to do that, but that’s how I would approach it.” While he understood the observers who screamed at the police officers, he said that response only endangered the officer’s ego and power, making him push harder and care less. Ethan grew up in Athens, Ohio, and at his high school of 1,200 students, there were maybe six black kids. Although he has darker skin and curly hair, he said he doesn’t self-identify as black. His father focused on choices, actions and performance rather than race. Ethan said he has rarely been treated differently or had different expectations because of his skin color, both then and now living in Valley Ford. “I feel like I’ve created that experience in the way that I view myself,” he said. He approaches life from a place of compassion, tranquility and love, and his philosophy is that those forces will emanate into the world around him. “My life has been about carrying the torch for harmony,” he said. As a school board member, he analogized his approach to fighting 10 tough opponents at once. He looks for small, progressive increases, because the issues facing the district are too large to take on all at once. And instead of trying to change board policies or make bold proclamations, he feels his mere presence can make an impact. “If you put a big rock into a river, the rock doesn’t do anything but divert or alter the flow of the water. It’s not trying to reach out and make water bend, but just its existence changes things,” he said. “I try to be the rock in the river.”