“Well, at least you know you’re doing something right,” multiple people responded when I told them about the white supremacist vandalism that hit my organization’s office late April.
They meant that my social, racial and economic justice organization, Washington CAN!, had been doing enough good work to put us on the target list of our opposition. We were making progress toward positive change and others were trying to intimidate us down. It’s the most abusive relationship I’ve ever had.
My coworker got to the office on a Sunday morning with some May 1st immigrant rights march volunteers. They stopped in their tracks when they saw that vandals had broken office windows, slashed tires of vehicles, plugged vehicle exhaust pipes, and left white supremacist slogans in graffiti outside the office, including “RaHoWa 88.” A quick search revealed that it stands for “Racial Holy War,” and the number “88” represents “Heil Hitler.”
The incident shocked us all, but the motives were clear. Washington CAN! received national attention—including from Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh—when Marcelas Owens, an 11 year-old African American Washington CAN! member, stood next to President Obama as he signed the historic health reform legislation into law. Marcelas’ story of losing his mother after she got so sick she could no longer work and lost her health insurance was heard across the country in the weeks leading up to the health reform vote. On top of this, our organization is also actively and publicly working to promote immigrant rights and reforming our immigration system.
We understood how white supremacists saw us. Being advocates on issues like health care, immigration, and economic reform, to name a few, meant that we were directly linked to promoting equality for people of color.
Makes sense, right? But there’s been this one-liner circulating in the media and the Tea Party that these issues are not about race.
The New York Times ran an article about immigration reform on May 17 that concluded that views on immigration were largely carved by age. As Channing Kennedy said on the ColorLines blog (www.racewire.org), “The ‘age’ angle, the ‘culture war’ angle, is cute, because it moves the conversation away from race and away from accountability. That’s only good for people who don’t have to think about race. Immigration is a race issue.”
Study after study has shown that people of color are disproportionately affected by gaps in our nation’s systems. If you put two people side by side with the same educational, societal and, economic status, one person being white and the other being a person of color, there is still an unequal gap limiting the person of color’s access to consistent, quality care. While Arizona was passing a law that legalized racial profiling of immigrations by local law enforcement, Seattle police officers abused an innocent Latino bystander who they thought was a suspect because of his race while being racially abrasive. As the gulf coast oil spill puts an entire industry out of work, Vietnamese and other South East Asian fishermen face language barriers and lack of outreach from oil giant BP, and therefore face a major threat to their entire livelihood.
I bring this all up because if there’s one message the vandals left with me, it’s not that I should be scared into submission and stop working for equality, it’s the opposite. The attack on the Washington CAN! office underscores the importance of our continued work for racial equality. No one is going to just hand it to us. Race is a still a huge issue in our society, one that too often results in fatal consequences for people and communities of color, and ignoring it won’t make it all go away.
As evidenced by their attack on us, members of the opposition already see issues through a racial lens, and we should too.