Committing to Racial Justice
Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible—even if you’re choking on it—until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.
—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge”| May 30, 2020, Los Angeles Times
Community mural painted by Milwaukee artists at the corner of Holton St and North Ave
June 6, 2020 (updated June 17)
Woodland Pattern stands in solidarity with Black, Brown, and Indigenous poets and artists; with our BIPOC friends, peers, neighbors, and community members; with people of color in Milwaukee and across the country; and with activists and demonstrators everywhere who are calling for an end to the persecution of BIPOC lives. We voice our outrage over the murder of Black people by police, and call for justice for George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Alvin Cole, Breonna Taylor, Joel Acevedo, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others whose lives have been irreversibly stolen from us. The assault on Black life in America must end. Black Lives Matter. To everyone engaged in the struggle for racial justice, we send our love and support.
Despite our nation’s stated ideals, it remains true that we live in a country founded on genocide and slavery. It is essential that we finally come to terms with this brutal legacy if we are to ever live up to the democratic values this country claims to hold dear.
Five centuries after Europeans landed on this continent, Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color in this country continue to be terrorized by violence and systematically oppressed, not only through overtly racist laws, practices, and beliefs but also through absent-minded policies, cultural behaviors, and mental habits that center whiteness at the expense of BIPOC experience, especially in conversations about race. This habitual centering of whiteness, rooted as it is in the patriarchal and supremacist mindset of colonialism, frequently coincides with the centering of other historically privileged groups, undermining the lives and health of women (by centering men), LGBTQ+ people (by centering heteronormative culture), Asian Americans, Arab Americans, people of Latinx heritage, people of faiths other than Christianity, and many immigrants to this nation.
To quote Scott Woods’ essay “5 Things No One Is Actually Saying about Ani DiFranco”: The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. . . . Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on.
At Woodland Pattern, we recognize the insidiousness of centering whiteness and remaining silent in the face of ongoing anti-Black, anti-Indigenous racial terror and abuse—that “colorblindness” denies the truth of BIPOC histories and lived realities, and that passivity in the face of injustice directly endangers BIPOC lives by enabling supremacism to replicate itself generationally often without notice or resistance, through oblivious complicity.
The compounding effects and outcomes of our collective racial history in the US—all of the lives, actions, and nonactions that they embody and represent—bring us to today, a moment in which we are once again witnessing increasingly open, unapologetic, and virulent anti-Black racism alongside more hopeful signs of a deeper reckoning with anti-Blackness among some white people and non-Black people of color.
And though there is less national media attention for their agonies (due to the centering of settler culture), Indigenous peoples likewise continue to suffer as nations whose sovereignty and rights are trampled to the extreme detriment of their communities and lands. This disparity can also be witnessed, as it can be in Black communities, in the disproportionate number of Covid-19 cases and deaths among Indigenous populations.
It is a matter of urgency that we increase safety, power, and health within Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities—both around the country and in our home city of Milwaukee. Such change will first require serious and ongoing commitment on the part of white people and non-Black, non-Indigenous people of color to actively self-identify and dismantle anti-Black and anti-Indigenous attitudes within themselves and to address these issues within their families, friendships, workplaces, and communities. Only then will we have a chance as a society of overcoming the inequalities that remain deeply ingrained within our country’s cultural institutions; our educational, financial, criminal justice, and health care systems; and our government and political processes.
We recognize this moment for what it is, a nationwide opportunity to advance restorative racial justice, and as a white-led organization we fully embrace our responsibility to use our privilege to advocate for transformative change while performing cultural work that leads to a deeper understanding and potential healing of our society’s oldest wounds.
For our part, we will redouble our efforts and take on this work wholeheartedly—privately as individuals, collectively as a staff and board, and outwardly as a cultural organization and community space. We will begin by engaging in deeper self-critique, auditing our own practices to understand how we contribute to the problem, and actively incorporating solutions from BIPOC poets, artists, leaders, and activists. We vow to listen to, defend, and center BIack people, Indigenous people, and other people of color through our programming and through our community presence. Our bookshelves will feature prominently titles by BIPOC authors, and we will invite those authors to engage meaningfully with the community through readings, conversations, and workshops with youth and adults.
We also pledge to increase our outreach within Milwaukee’s African American community to partner on events, and to continue to make our space available to BIPOC groups, curators, artists, musicians, and poets. We will continue to find and allocate resources through which to fairly compensate BIPOC writers and artists. We will use our gallery to hold further space for Black, Brown, and Indigenous rage, sadness, and rebellion, as well as joy, while also providing educational resources for white community members who wish to self-examine without inflicting harm on Black people and other people of color. We will support more BIPOC-owned businesses. And we will continue to invest in the futures of BIPOC youth in our city.
Above all, we vow to nourish our relationships with our BIPOC community members, and to build alongside them platforms for transformative actions, not as appropriators but as apprentices. We promise to do the daily work of examining our choices in order to decenter whiteness at every level of our organization. We refuse to have a deficit of courage in doing so and will keep listening to BIPOC as to how to best uplift their artistic practices and break down the systems that have for too long kept many oppressed.
While we believe deeply in the power of poetry and the arts to affect meaningful cultural change, we know that on their own the arts cannot undo the centuries of systemic anti-Black racism that remain underexamined among so many white and non-BIack people of color. Still, we also do not underestimate our power as a cultural institution to be an agent of change. It is a failure on our part and on the part of cultural institutions everywhere that so little progress has been made to rectify the traumas of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.
We thus acknowledge that our responsibility also lies in furthering well-being through activist and electoral work. We vow to increase the use of our organization’s voice to back initiatives for justice, particularly in the case of the continued disenfranchisement and state-sanctioned murder of African Americans here in Milwaukee and throughout the country. We back the Community Task Force MKE, a grassroots coalition of BIPOC-led organizations and initiatives striving toward peace, unity, and progress in Milwaukee, and will work through their advice to help eliminate police brutality and racial discrimination.
We also support the demands outlined by the African American Roundtable of Milwaukee and have contacted our legislators with statements for change. You can do the same by emailing Mayor Tom Barrett (at mayor @ milwaukee [dot] gov), Police Chief Alfonso Morales (at AMORAL @ milwaukee [dot] gov), and Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas (at Earnell [dot] Lucas @ milwaukeecountywi [dot] gov).
If you are a white person educating yourself and your friends, family, and acquaintances about how to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability, we direct you to Showing Up for Racial Justice and their toolkit.
If you are in a position to donate, we recommend sending funds to these local Black-led Milwaukee organizations:
Metcalfe Park Community Bridges
Finally, we understand that we do not have all of the solutions today. We realize that authentically practicing anti-racism is equal parts learning and un-learning, involves both quarrel and reconciliation, requires self-love and compassion for others, and is above all an ongoing process.
We thank each of you for being a part of our community and invite you to join us in this work as we develop specific goals and strategies to uphold these pledges.
We acknowledge that in Milwaukee we live and work on traditional Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, and Menominee homelands along the southwest shores of Michigami, part of North America’s largest system of freshwater lakes, where the Milwaukee, Menominee, and Kinnickinnic rivers meet and the people of Wisconsin’s sovereign Anishinaabe, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Oneida, and Mohican nations remain present.
We further acknowledge the grave evil colonialism introduced to these lands through genocide as well as slavery, and also via racist and xenophobic beliefs, laws, and practices that continue to inflict harm upon Black, brown, and Indigenous lives. We honor those who have lived—and do live, now—at these intersections of identity and experience, and are committed to the active dismantling of white supremacy.
720 E. Locust Street
Milwaukee, WI 53212
Phone: 414 263 5001
Hours: Tues–Sun | 12-7 pm
Building Accessibility: Despite the age of our physical location, and attendant limitations to access, Woodland Pattern is committed to making its programs and facilities available for as many as possible. Please call for more information.
Events Accessibility: Woodland Pattern is able to offer captioning services for its online events and with advanced notice can provide ASL interpretation for live events. Please contact us with accommodation requests and questions.
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