Sandy Williams calls for strategies in the fight against racism
Sandy Williams, editor of the Black Lens, told participants at the Sept. 14 Alaska, Oregon Washington NAACP Convention that people of color need strategies to fight against racism, because there are strategies to keep up racial disparities that mean people of color have the lowest life expectancy in Spokane.
As a self-described “word wonk,” Sandy looked up the word “war” in Merriam Webster to make the point that racism is a war. In addition to referring to an open, declared, armed hostile conflict between states or nations, “war” is “a state of hostility, conflict or antagonism” or “a struggle or competition between opposing forces for a particular end.”
“In this country and city, many are at war with people who do not look, act, believe, love or pray like them,” she said, at the luncheon for the region’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Sandy talks about “war” because “we cannot fight what we do not recognize.” She said it’s important to understand the strategies and psychology of conflict.
Although her recognition by the Spokesman-Review as one of 10 women of the year nominees may call attention to her and make her a target, she intends to use that honor to give visibility to her efforts to raise funds for the Carl Maxey Center at 3115-3118 E. Fifth Ave. as a gathering place for the black community.
She’s willing to be visible and speak out to give voice to people of color and to work to overcome racism.
While she usually speaks in rooms full of people who do not look like her, in those rooms and others, she has stirred people to commit time, energy and funds for the center and to work for racial and social justice.
“It’s lonely. I constantly have to be a representative or the voice in rooms where I’m the only person of color. It’s a constant tension. I did not wake up and decide to do this. If I made the decision to do this, I could make the decision not to do it, and I don’t have that privilege. I could do something more fun or financially rewarding.
“I’m doing this because of my mom. She will be 85 soon. She grew up in segregated South Carolina and has a right to be angry based on how she was treated, but instead she’s dignified and kind.”
When her mother said she was tired about how black patients were treated at the hospital where she was a nurse, her grandmother, who went no further than the third grade and learned to read by reading labels on cans, told her: “I would walk through hell to get you where you are,” said Sandy, quoting her great-grandmother.
Sandy’s father came to Spokane serving in the U.S. army and taught ROTC at Gonzaga. Sent out to die for the U.S., he came back and was denied services.
“He had every right to be angry also, but he was one of the kindest men I’ve known,” she said.
Sandy was angered when a Spokane jury ruled in May 2017 that the person who shot William Poindexter in the back from 30 feet away had acted in self-defense. She had sat in the trial day after day. When the verdict came she stormed out.
Her daughter asked why she was upset, shrugging, “It happens all the time.” There was resignation in her voice, implying there was nothing to do about that.
“I decided that would not be my legacy for my child,” Sandy said. “Because of my mother, father and daughter, I continue to fight this war.”
The strategies of those promoting racism include building fear of a perceived or real threat of violence; making people believe there is a scarcity of resources, when there is a wealth; assassinating the character of others, and dividing to conquer.
“It’s not an accident to use those tactics against people of color and disenfranchised people,” Sandy said.
She cited a 1712 letter by white slave owner Willie Lynch on how to control slaves by making them docile, He said to use distrust and envy to divide them based on exaggerating their differences: pitting old vs. young, dark skin vs light skin, females vs. males, tall vs. short, fine-haired vs. coarse-haired, house servants vs. field slaves.
“How do we work with war weary people who sit around tables talking about how to end racism, going back and forth, having the same conversation for years? she asked.
Sandy hopes people can gather at the Carl Maxey Center to learn strategies and decide new ways to challenge systemic racism.
“We need to learn about strategy. What is the best one, not for the moment but for seven generations from now,” she said. “We need to think like that if we are to make a commitment to change.”
Sandy often goes to Airway Heights Correctional Facility for their Juneteenth event. It’s painful, she said, because it’s where so many black men are. It’s joyful to get together and do a Soul Train Line dance.
One tool she uses to encourage new ways of thinking is a take-off on Portia Nelson’s, “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk.” Portia offers a progression of thinking to help people change their lives by changing their perspectives. The following is Sandy’s summary of that progression:
1) I walk down the street. There’s a hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I’m lost and helpless. It takes a long time to get out. It’s not my fault.
2) I walk down the street and see the hole. I still fall in and it’s hard to get out, but I know it’s not my fault.
3) I walk down the street. I see the hole. It’s a habit. I fall in, but I get out immediately.
4) I walk down the street. I see the hole. I walk around it.
5) I walk down a different street.
Sandy suggests that as a model to express changes in perspectives for people fighting racism:
1) I try to fight racism. I go to meetings and trainings with diverse groups. I commit to be part of the solution and experience pushback. I feel frustrated and helpless.
2) I keep going to meetings, panels and conferences. I try to do and say the right things so I do not make people feel uncomfortable. I pretend. It’s more frustrating. I do the best I can.
3) I still fight racism. I’m on everyone’s diversity committee. I share my story to try to make people understand. I still experience push-back and hostility. I’m frustrated but open people to understand about what racism is not.
4) I continue to fight racism, but I work selectively, deciding which committees, meetings and conferences to be in. I’m not everyone’s mentor. I call out resistance and white privilege. I’m frustrated but hopeful. I see there’s a long way to go, but I’m hopeful.
5) I fight systemic racism. I create boards, committees and task forces to harness the power to change systems from inside out. I feel righteous anger. I’m weary, but I continue. Doors open. I move forward.
For information, call 765-1964 or visit carlmaxeycenter.com.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, October, 2019