Bellingham and New Orleans are not two isolated, unconnected communities. From a social justice perspective, both are part of the same nation that neglects its poor and people of color.
“I think that poverty in our country as a whole is largely invisible, and is more invisible among those who are members of ethnic and racial minorities,” said Professor Teri McMurty-Chubb. McMurty-Chubb teaches at Fairhaven College and has been involved in planning Raising up the Struggle: the Legacy of Post-levee Break New Orleans.
Raising up the Struggle consists of a week and a half of ongoing events to educate about New Orleans in the larger context of social justice movements. Raising up the Struggle includes a jazz concert with Mary Griffin, Spike Lee’s new film When the Levees Broke, and a panel of displaced New Orleanians who will discuss the direct effects of environmental racism.
At every event, donations will be accepted to help people in the Ninth Ward, the neighborhood still devastated by Hurricane Katrina and broken levees.
Junior Antasia Parker, ASVP of Legislative Affairs and a member of the Black Student Union, helped organize a discussion forum called Future of Black Leadership: Correcting the Causes of Katrina. The forum will cover the poverty concentrated in inner-cities and middle-class black flight.
“Black students here at college are setting themselves up for economic gain,” Parker said. “A lot of the times people won’t go back to the neighborhood they came from. The black children don’t see that, because people who have money don’t want to live in the hood.”
“It’s fundamental to the larger issue of what we’re talking about: racism and environmental racism.”
The Future of Black Leadership forum will take place on January 25 at 7 p.m. in VU 565, and the discussion will be facilitated by Professor McMurty-Chubb.
McMurty-Chubb said that students should help people in whatever way they can because even simple actions can make a big difference—but also remember that it is important to be considerate of cultural differences.
“There is not a large population of African Americans in the Pacific Northwest, there is not a deep understanding of the issues that face those communities,” said McMurty-Chubb.
“I think people are still operating on stereotypes about who these people are,” she said, “which I think is partly a misunderstanding. People will say things like, ‘Why didn’t they just leave?’ Well, people can’t leave if they don’t have the means to do so.”
“I think one of the most important things that [people] can do is let it in,” said McMurty-Chubb, “to [try to] actually feel what they’re feeling... understanding people on the level of their humanity, looking at someone on the roof of a house that is getting passed over by helicopters. Just imagine what that must feel like. See that person as someone who could be your mother, could be your father, could be your close friend. That’s where the change starts, we actually have to let it in.”
“This [Hurricane Katrina] is probably the largest displacement of African Americans since after the Civil War,” she said. “As a member of the African diasporic community, I have a responsibility to [African Americans]. They’re my people, they look like me. I have a responsibility to them to make sure that they aren’t forgotten.”
One goal of Raising up the Struggle is to identify the ways that racism plays out on campus in the greater context of communities across the United States.
“Here, the way racism manifests itself is that it is brushed under the rug. We don’t talk about it, and we pretend it doesn’t exist,” said Jacqui Hermer.
Hermer is a recent Fairhaven graduate and the logistics coordinator for Raising up the Struggle, and volunteered last year in New Orleans. Hermer said she wants to work for social justice with other white folks and “talk about what it means to be white in a world that is made for us.”
“In New Orleans,” said Hermer, “we got so much credit and money from our friends up north to be there... we’d write grants to the same sources that local organizations of color, that were fighting for survival, that were fighting for their homes, that were fighting for food on the table, were fighting for their grandmas to live and to breathe, and they wouldn’t be able to get the same grants because we would win them, every time.”
“I think that it [racism] exposes itself very differently,” Hermer said. “New Orleans was the first slave port. New Orleans was physically constructed to show racial divisions. There are huge medians that divide white neighborhoods from black neighborhoods, and that still exists today. People are physically and verbally divided.”
“Who would be left behind if there was a disaster here?” said Hermer. “We don’t need to go to New Orleans to find racism.”
Hermer hopes that the events will give students the tools to do solidarity work with people in New Orleans and here.
“Solidarity means doing sustainable, long-lasting work,” she said.