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Racial Equity: Will Auburn City Council Make the Right Choice? Monday's Racial Equity Vote Is About Far More Than Budget Impact

For what feels like months now, our City Councilmembers have been discussing and debating Resolution No. 5427.  This resolution would permit the city to bring in a consulting group to provide racial equity training and policy development.  I’ll be blunt: I have no idea why this is still being debated.

I have been in Europe for a week.  Throughout the cities I’ve visited are memorials honoring those lost during “the terrible war.”  Many of these quiet reminders are woven into the communities so subtly, had they not been explained we would not have understood their significance.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Sachsenhausen, Berlin Concentration Camp
Quote at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial and Museum | Photo for Auburn Examiner

Arbeit Macht Frei

In Germany, I visited Sachsenhausen, a former concentration camp about 30 minutes north of Berlin.  Sachsenhausen held primarily political prisoners and was the administrative center of all concentration camps.  Witnessing the camp firsthand and hearing its history was a powerful, life-changing experience.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Sachsenhausen, Berlin Concentration Camp
Memorial Statue at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial and Museum | Photo for the Auburn Examiner

Sachsenhausen is situated within the town of Oranienburg.  Its placement within the city is much like a large shopping mall is in the US.  Residential homes once sit across the street from the camp.  It was a jarring visual reminder that hate does not breed only in big cities and can be anyone’s neighbor.

Prisoners within the camp were labeled with triangles to let the SS Officers more easily identify them.  Colored triangles identified LGBT members, political prisoners, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Romani, and Soviets (to name a few).  This same type of segregation and labeling, sadly, was not limited to the Nazi concentration camps.

“Unwise and Untimely” Activities

Less than 20 years after the fall of the Nazi regime, Martin Luther King Jr. sat in a jail cell writing the Letters from the Birmingham Jail.  He had been arrested for protesting the segregation of buses.

mlk, martin luther king jr, dr martin luther king jr, mlk mirmingham, wyatt tee walker
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr behind bars in Birmingham. | Photo by Wyatt Tee Walker

The lunch counter from the first, extremely important, Lunch Counter Sit-In also is on display in the Newseum.  Students fighting for basic rights to eat at a lunch counter, something denied because of the color of their skin.  Something far too many of us takes for granted today.

Nine years after students sat silently demanding the same rights as those with different skin, the Stonewall Riots happened.  These five days are widely considered the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and catalyst for the gay rights movements in the US. 

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Despite the years of these protests, of laws being changed, rights being won (on paper), and statistics showing positive movement – inequality remains.  Inequity in our society thrives.  Hate still has a home here.  And Auburn is no exception.

Youth and Immaturity

DaShawn Horne was nearly beaten to death, in Lakeland, simply for the color of his skin.  Racial slurs were spewed at him from his attacker as he filmed Horne’s lifeless body.  After breaking down her bedroom door and calling her a whore, the attacker showed the video to his sister.

“Youth and relative immaturity,” were the reason the defense requested the judge be lenient.  His attacker defended that the slur he spat at Horne as he lay bleeding on the ground is one used frequently, in rap and is something he has known since kindergarten.

The Power of One Person

Would you have known about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), had Rosalie Fish not just won four races at the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association State Track and Field Championship, while also championing the cause each time her feet hit the track?  Fish is a Senior at Muckleshoot Indian Tribal School and ran to honor four women. Fish dedicated each race to one woman: the 2-mile to Renee Davis, 1,600-meter to Alice Looney, 800 to Jacqueline Salyers and the 400 to Misty Upham.

Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association State Track and Field Championship, Rosalie Fish, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, MMIW, Muckleshoot, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Muckleshoot Track MMIW, Muckleshoot track winner, Senior track star Fish, MMIW Muckleshoot, MMIW Track, Alex Flett Photography, Alex Flett MMIW, Alex Flett Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association State Track and Field Championship, Alex Flett Rosalie Fish
Rosalie Fish races during the 2019 Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association State Track and Field Championship | Photo by Alex Flett Photography (Site, Facebook)

Roads are Not More Important Than People

It has been argued that the cost of the consultant is not worth the return on investment.  That roads require more attention.  Infrastructure is important to a city, of course.  But the people using that infrastructure must be put above that.   While the budget requires it, there is truly no dollar amount that can be put on the value of ensuring the equity of those who live, work and visit Auburn.

Balancing racial inequity is not about putting one race down.  It is about ensuring equality.  For everyone, no matter what label they choose for themselves, or that is put upon them.  Hate is a plague to any community; knowledge, respect, and equity is the vaccine.

EDITED: Resolution number updated to correct number

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