by LeRon L. Barton
When you walk into The Grey Area, an old movie theater turned community space, you are greeted by 20-something residents of San Francisco and the area. In the heart of the Mission, this looks like gentrification. It could be a new pub, restaurant or hot co-worker venture, but tonight it is all about addressing white supremacy, the latest police terrorism against Black men and undoing systemic racism. “Let’s Take Action,” a think tank organized by Los Angeles native Michael Morgenstern and New York transplant Joe Conte, aims to bring people together who may have a tough time talking about race but want to do something about the conditions they see.
When I decided to attend this function, I had one question on my mind: Why now? Why all of a sudden are whites caring about the deaths of Black men in America at the hands of police? It’s not as if this is something new. From Eric Garner and John Crawford to Rekia Boyd and Mario Woods, there have always been Black victims of police terrorism. What has lit a fire under these people’s asses to make them want to act?
The event included speakers Shaun Haines, former DCCC candidate; Frisco Five member Edwin Lindo; and local activist Christina “Krea” Gomez. After the panel discussion, there was to be talk amongst the attendees about what was heard and what we took away from it.
“Let’s Take Action,” a think tank organized by Los Angeles native Michael Morgenstern and New York transplant Joe Conte, aims to bring people together who may have a tough time talking about race but want to do something about the conditions they see.
Being in an event where race is discussed and the participants are predominately white could be problematic. As I looked through the crowd, I saw people who looked like those who would normally cross the street if they saw me walking towards them. As I sat next to my friend Rose, I did a general count of the attendees and I guestimated about 150-175 people. The depressing part is that there were less than 15 Black people present, myself included.
This may sound sad and it is, but this is also a realistic look into what San Francisco is. As of 2015, African American’s represented less than 4 percent of the population. How can realistic change happen when the ones who are being targeted are not being represented? When out of the three speakers, only one is Black? How can a real solution be presented when we are not present to tell our story?
When I decided to attend this function, I had one question on my mind: Why now? Why all of a sudden are whites caring about the deaths of Black men in America at the hands of police? It’s not as if this is something new.
The panel began with Haines telling stories of employment discrimination and the rapid gentrification in San Francisco. He described situations of African Americans being overlooked for jobs, even when they had the right qualifications for the position.
When an audience member asked what can she do if there is a lack of Black or Latino people, Haines suggested, “Inquire with Human Resources why are there not many people of color working here?” Haines is the right person to discuss this issue due to his personal experience of workplace discrimination and his efforts to fight it.
Lindo gave an electricfying speech about the origins of the police, explaining to the crowd they started as slave catchers. He then went into the latest interactions between Black and Latino people and police, quoting a white San Francisco police officer who was excited that he was transferred to the Bayview, a predominately African American neighborhood, because he could, “kill niggers.”
When asked about a solution, before he could even answer, I said to myself, “Eradicate the police.” Now that may not be realistic, and you may call me a radical. But as Lindo said, “You cannot kill me if you are not there.” It just makes sense. There have been too many interactions with the police that have started calm but were escalated, resulting in the death of a Black man or woman.
Gomez wrapped up the panel, urging the audience to reach out to the communities. “When you make a commitment to justice, you make a commitment until it is done.” She then stressed community organizing amongst each other. “You need to connect to this issue in a real way. Talk to folks.”
After the Q&A with the guests, the crowd then broke up into circles to discuss what was talked about and their experiences. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were still on people’s minds and had been the bulk of their conversations. Lucy, a very intelligent and introspective Asian woman, spoke of her privilege of being Asian and not facing the wrath of white supremacy like her darker non-white friends. Amanda, who is involved in reformative justice, talked about the reluctance of fellow whites to get involved and battle racism.
As I listened to the discussions, I realized that this is the perfect setting for white people. I am of the belief that whites will not listen to Black people when it comes to racism, but they will respect the opinion of other whites. This was a non-threatening space for them; there were very few Black people to challenge them, but maybe this was not the place for that.
As I listened to the discussions, I realized that this is the perfect setting for white people. I am of the belief that whites will not listen to Black people when it comes to racism, but they will respect the opinion of other whites.
Sometimes whites need to talk amongst themselves, and this represented that. While I believe whites should know what to do when fighting racism and white supremacy, many people were receptive to ideas and perspectives that maybe they had not heard. This felt like an incubator for the white ally. There was a feeling that people truly wanted to get involved and no one should be criticized or made uncomfortable because of that.
With that being said, whites who want to help dismantle the system of racism and white supremacy have to eventually make steps on their own. Black and other non-white people should not be responsible for teaching white people how to treat us. To quote the great Toni Morrison, “We cannot be the doctor and the patient.”
When I caught up with Morgenstern and Conte, I asked them why they created this event and, as white men, “why do you give a shit?” Morgenstern paused for a minute. He then gave a thoughtful answer, saying, “Because I am tired of living in a war zone.” It was a powerful response – refreshing and honest. Like myself, Michael knows that we are at war and is realistic about the conditions that we live in.
Whites who want to help dismantle the system of racism and white supremacy have to eventually make steps on their own.
In all, Let’s Take Action was a good experience. While coming off as self-congratulatory at times, at its core it was honest. This was by no means a perfect event, but I am looking forward to the next installment. Morgenstern and Conte potentially have something here. If white people can be honest amongst themselves about the state of racism in the world, then maybe we can start to see the unraveling of this system that has been a bane to us all.
LeRon L. Barton, a writer from Kansas City, Missouri, who currently resides in San Francisco, has been writing poetry, screenplays and short stories since he was way young. LeRon’s essays have appeared in Salon, The Good Men Project, Those People, Buzzfeed, Gorilla Convict and Elephant Journal. He is the author of “Straight Dope: A 360 degree look into American drug culture,” released in 2013, and his new book, “All You Need Is Love” is available on Amazon.com. You can reach him at www.mainlinepub.com , twitter.com/MainlineLeRon, https://www.facebook.com/ninjagaiden78 and firstname.lastname@example.org.