Now is the Time to Build an Anti-Racist Community
By Gloria Kimbwala
When the Carr fire ravaged Keswick and other neighborhoods, our communities leapt into action. They recognized their neighbors had suffered horrendous trauma and were in distress. Our communities rallied together to help those who were so desperately in need of support. Redding and the surrounding communities rose to the moment as people opened their homes, businesses, pocketbooks, and hearts to those who were experiencing trauma. We did it then, and we will do it time and time again. That is the Redding ethos, and that’s the Redding I want the world to see.
Yet as quickly as Redding people rush to support their neighbors who are suffering from a trauma that’s easy to see and feel, we can struggle to respond to community traumas that are more abstract -- like the institutional and historical racism communities of color have and continue to experience.
Redding needs to translate the way they respond to natural disasters, to the way it responds to Black Lives Matters. In my view, these are not protests we’re organizing, but distress calls. For decades, people of color have borne the brunt of systemic racism, police brutality, and punitive criminal justice policies that threaten our lives, our safety, and have torn our communities apart.
Every system gets the results for which it's perfectly designed. This means we have to acknowledge that the system that causes these traumas is white supremacy. The way to confront and defeat white supremacy is to reform our systems so that their priority is protecting black lives. In many ways, we are the canary in the coal mine. If the justice system protects black lives, it will protect Indigenous lives, it will protect trans lives, it will protect houseless lives, it will protect the lives of people with mental health struggles. Black Lives is bigger than race; it’s about destroying a system that is predicated on some lives being worth more than others.
The first step Redding needs to take is to start amplifying and centering black voices and heeding what we say.
No More Silencing Voices
One of the ways white supremacy comes to the surface in Redding and the surrounding communities is through the silencing of our voices and the erasure of our history. Words have Power! When people say “Redding is not diverse” it's a traumatic statement because there are reasons this community is predominantly white - violence and removal. Yana, Wintu, Atsugewi, and Achomawi peoples have lived here since time immemorial, but their voices have been marginalized by two centuries of genocide, discrimination, and repressive policies. Denying Shasta County’s diversity also erases the history of our once vibrant Chinatown that mysteriously burned down and Chinese immigrants who were expelled from the city in the 19th century. It erases the history of Black and Latino people in Redding and the surrounding communities, who’ve lived here, owned businesses, and been community members since its early days. Denying our diversity can also be a way to escape our responsibility to make things right and ensure those who’ve been silent feel safe and have the platform for their voices to be heard and heeded.
Since the death of George Floyd, people who believe Black Lives Matter, have organized several peaceful protests here despite having many antagonistic tactics against the protestors. There are a lot of people taking credit for the protest being peaceful. The anti-protestors, the police, the religious community, but these acknowledgements still center white people and silence the voices of those who have no sense of belonging in those communities and who are crying out in distress.
By applauding the police, counter protesters, and the Beloved Community for keeping the peace but not recognizing the voices and the work of the protesters who did the actual peaceful work, it perpetuates the narrative that black people and their allies are violent. It perpetuates the narrative that we’re not leaders, we don’t know how to organize, and we shouldn’t have a voice. Let me tell you - Black, Indigenous, Trans, and everyone who suffers from white supremacy wouldn’t be here if we didn’t know how to organize and lead!
The real reason the first protest ended peacefully is because EVERYONE was exercising their constitutional rights. But even the protest narrative is covered with covert white supremacy.
The truth is that the protest remained peaceful people practiced self-de-escalation and remained in peace. The reason it ended peacefully is because the organizer, Memphis, talked to the officers and made them promise that they would have de-escalation training for their officers, and the police captain agreed to do so.
My point in identifying these problematic narratives is because I am impressed by the number of people in Shasta County who support Black Lives Matter. I truly believe many want to support us, but to do so requires doing the work to identify how white supremacy has become ingrained in this community, especially in the stories we tell about ourselves.
If you want to speak up for Black Lives Matter, center Black people. Pass us the mic. Even as we’re calling for assistance to deal with these traumas, recognize our resilience and strength to get to this point.
I Want My Son’s Dreams to Come True
Black Lives Matter is personal for me. Since my son was two years old it has been my son’s dream to become a police officer. It’s been his obsession for the last 9 years. He will talk to you for hours about it. He has all the t-shirts, dress up clothes, toys, vests, badges, cars, walkie-talkies, everything that you could get except for one thing, a toy gun. Because as I support him in becoming his dream in life, I also have to protect him from being the next Tamir Rice. I’m doing the work inside my home to raise the next good cop, now you do the work in your agencies to remove the bad ones so they don’t kill your future recruit.
Beyond that, Black Lives Matter because when I spoke at the UN I committed to upholding their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as best as I can. The United Nations SDG 16 is to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” And if I want this for the whole world then I might as well start at home.
Some Tips on What To Do
I want people from all backgrounds to come and enjoy the city and invest in our local economy, so it’s imperative that the narrative change from “Redding is Racist” to Anti-Racist Redding. And in order to do that we are going to have to put in the work to become Anti-Racist. We don’t dismantle white supremacy through inertia and being nice; it requires systemic action.
Do you belong to a non-profit board or leadership group of some kind? Is it all white? That’s a problem. Now is the time to actively diversify your leadership groups and not in ways that tokenize people. Recruit and include diverse community members who challenge and advocate for reform.
If you work at an agency, business or non-profit, do you have diversity in your leadership roles? Are there ways you can change your hiring and promotion policies to reduce bias and discrimination? Now is a good time to investigate and make reforms.
Do you make a point to support minority-owned businesses? Throughout this country's history, minorities’ economies have been discriminated against and in the case of Indigenous peoples and Chinese immigrants straight up destroyed. Now’s a good time to start making things right.
I’ve heard from a journalist friend of mine that white journalists, especially young ones, can be nervous or shy when trying to develop relationships with diverse sources. It’s also important to remember that many minority community members may have good reason to be distrustful of the press, so now is the time to make it a priority to build relationships with us. Sources may not call you back if they don’t feel safe working with you. It’s your responsibility to improve those relationships; it’s not acceptable to leave our voices out of stories about this community.
Most importantly, let’s change the stories we tell about this community. Let’s work to center and amplify the histories, voices, and leadership of the historically marginalized. Let’s resist the temptation to always celebrate white authority at the detriment of the black and brown people who are doing the hard work to make this place welcome for everyone.
I don’t want the narrative that “Redding is Racist” to discourage tourism and investment. Because of COVID many people are beginning to be able to work from home and provide education from home. People who were currently tied to big cities are looking for smaller cities to move to. Redding is perfectly positioned to be one of those places. The cost of living is low, housing is affordable, wonderful outdoor activities, and good schools. This is really inviting to many people, and since small businesses is the lifeline of the city, we need to supplement the local economy by inviting those who are still working to have an inviting place to live. It’s easy to be attracted to Redding, but when people reach out to me and say that they were looking to move here but had a couple of negative encounters in the span of the 24 hours that they were here, I can’t even lie because their first hand experiences speak volumes.
“You belong here too. Belonging is deep and very hard work.”
A dedicated team of Redding residents from the Coalition for Restorative Justice have put together an Anti-Racism pledge. I encourage everyone to get involved and complete the Anti-Racism pledge and do their part in creating a great sense of belonging for everyone who passes through this area and those who call it home.