An open letter to Trustee Buchanan:

Opinion

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ShaRhonda Dawson

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Dear Susan: 

I want you to know I "really, really" understand what you are going through now. Talking to white people about racism is hard and when they (racists) know where you live and your children and family, it becomes terrifying. I have encountered many of these same hateful responses after writing about racism. The first time someone mentioned my home address and the school my children attend, I was ready to quit writing about racism permanently! 

You are probably debating if you should ever talk about racism again. I won't lie to you, if you do anti-racism work, there are few personal benefits. Truthfully, being anti-racist comes with a lot more risks than benefits. And you really can opt out because you are a white woman. Most white folks are silent about racism and never say anything, or get angry, with their racist white family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers. Being quiet about racism is normal for white people. What you did, showing real emotion, is out of the norm and it is scary being out of the norm. I am a black woman and even I continuously have to talk myself into staying in the fight. 

Here are some of the things that keep me writing and fighting racism:

1) We are in good company.

Anti-racist folks have been dealing with white terrorism, especially from white men, for the last 400 years. The abolitionists faced the same fear, and yet they continued to speak, act, and be angry about racism. To be on the same side of history as Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, and Angela Davis, gives me more courage than fear of the white terrorists. 

2) White racists are cowards. 

White terrorists enjoy scaring people "anonymously." They hardly use their names or show their faces. They bet on us being afraid, that just the threat of violence will be enough to shut us up. Brave anti-racists paid the price for speaking out. Dr. King, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, most of the early black residents who integrated this community, faced consequences that were life-threatening. Yet they did not back down. They knew death was a real consequence for the "crime of talking about white racism" and still fought racism. We honor them by refusing to allow fear to stop us from fighting racism. 

3) Stop apologizing for being angry. 

As a feminist, anger is an appropriate response to racism. What they are doing to you is called "tone policing." It is meant to silence you and make you, and anyone else who dares to speak against racism, scared to show emotion. Systemic racism and oppression are evils and it is normal to be angry. 

Susan, all of us who choose to fight racism have to make hard, difficult personal sacrifices. Many of these sacrifices aren't just personal but include risks to our families. I am praying for you and your family this weekend. I know, really I do, the attractiveness of "opting-out" or "toning down your racism rhetoric," especially when our children and partner didn't sign up for this fight.

But I hope you keep fighting on our team, Susan. #TeamAntiRacism is supportive and we are experiencing the same thing. Your story is not unique and is common to all who speak out against racism. Being anti-racist isn't fun; however, it is the only way to beat racism. 

OK, so you got your butt kicked this week. Rest, reflect, recharge, and then re-engage in the movement. 

I'll end with the words of Frederick Douglass: 

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

 

ShaRhonda Knott Dawson is a west suburban resident who is involved in multiple service organizations and projects in, and around, Oak Park. Her writing can be found on her blog, sharhondatribune.com.

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Reader Comments

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Jasper Long from Oak Park  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 11:38 AM

While Ramona Lopez's comment is an obvious exaggerated spin, it is actual reality. As Lebron James found out with his move to try to trademark Taco Tuesday, that backlash (at least on social media) was quick and swift from everyone as it should. Hilarity. I personally think ShaRhonda made a good point about quoting MLK. I may have left off the "bad form to quote MLK, when you aren't Black." But the " don't know MLK's research and work well enough to quote in context" is absolutely right. MLK was considered a Marxist (a word I've seen in the comments here), communist, a race baiter and the FBI thought his non-violence approach was the most dangerous thing. It's mind blowing when conservatives quote him, when they absolutely would never support his socialist, left leaning politics if he was alive today. In his later years, he was alienating his liberal allies. Those famous "love can only drive out hate" quotes were also followed up with break unjust laws, refuse collaborations and negotiations, calls for better distribution of wealth within the US. It would be better to quote Douglass and Booker T. Washington, for their ideals on individualism and communal self help.

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 10:54 AM

I have to disagree with Bruce's response to Nancy's comments. Again, we have to focus on behavior here and not the ends. Nancy is arguing that Buchanan's disrespectful, boorish, and counterproductive behavior is reprehensible-- not the diversity policy that she at least superficially claimed to support (it's a different argument whether excluding others' opinions because of their skin truly promotes diversity). Voters cast their choice because of what Buchanan promised. What they did NOT likely know when they voted was how she would conduct herself once in office, since she is new. As evidenced by the majority of comments here, in other publications, and in conversations with other OP's on my block, now that her style and behavior is known, they likely would have voted otherwise.

Grace Dascoli  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 10:32 AM

Dear ShaRhonda, I didn't quote MLK. I quoted Fredrerick Douglas. I will take your suggestion of "not quoting amazing historical figures because of my color" under consideration. Best to you as well- Grace

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 9:43 AM

I second the motion stated by the eloquent Kevin Peppard.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 12:20 AM

@Ramona: I hope that people who've never read you before realize that what you just wrote is not what you think. You're pursuing the logical outcome of Dawson's approach to life, using a kind of intellectual ju-jitsu. You're very good at that. Write some Opinion Pieces in the WJ sometime. Oak Park needs to hear your voice more fully.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 10:56 PM

Ramona. I agree in regard to Ms. Dawson. However Ms. Dawson's ideas seem to echo those of the late Dr. Francis Cress Welsing. So at least we have some intellectual context to her persistent melanocentric world view.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 10:29 PM

If one looks at Ms. Dawson's Linkedin page, she states she is a "taco enthusiast". As a Mexican woman I find this to be nothing short of cultural appropriation. I mean how can a black woman be a "taco enthusiast" ? This is a blatant microaggression, very bad form and extremely racist. Just another clear example of how Ms. Dawson uses her privilege and power as an English speaking American citizen to oppress hard working decent immigrants. If a white woman can't quote a black person, how on earth can she call herself a "taco enthusiast". She must think it's OK because she has a couple of Mexican friends and they have given her the thumbs up. I wonder if others Mexican have been triggered by this and have ran to their safe spaces to escape this blatant oppression by Ms. Dawson. Perhaps tacos are just a social construct and well in that case, it's all good.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 10:28 PM

Nancy Voorhees. You ask " ... who wants to be governed by someone like this (referring to Dr. Buchanan)?" Well guess what? I hate to point out the inconvenient fact, but Dr. Buchanan received the most votes for Village Trustee of all the candidates in the previous election. So in answer to your question, I guess a lot of folks in Oak Park want to be governed by someone like this.

Nancy Voorhees  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 10:17 PM

I grew up in River Forest and attended OPRF HS. During my career in Chicago, I lived downtown, and then moved to a north shore suburb to raise my family. I was always proud of my west side heritage. For the last 6 years, we have lived in another state. I was shocked and appalled to see the video of Susan Buchanan , an Oak Park Trustee, behaving in such an arrogant and unprofessional manner. Her behavior had nothing to do with Oak Park's diversity policies. It had to do with her own personality. She was completely rude and obnoxious. Her air of superiority and her demeaning remarks were entirely foreign to the concept of professionalism. I would think she would be FIRED from her day job ( assuming she's in a practice with partners), for such a display. She has single handedly disparaged Oak Park, perhaps beyond repair. The first thing I did was to call up my young professional daughter, who lives in the city, and tell her to NEVER EVER move to Oak Park or River Forest. What a shame. And shame on the whole Board if she is not asked to step down, or if she is not officially removed from your governing body. She has most certainly, severely damaged the village's personality and its desirability as a place to live. Again, this has nothing to do with the village's diversity policies, but rather the unprofessional way in which she conducted herself. Who wants to work with someone like this? Or worse yet; who wants to be governed by someone like this!

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 10:07 PM

"FYI, it is bad form to quote MLK, when you aren't Black. " Great, now Ms. Dawson thinks she can tell others who they can and can't quote based on their race. I'm curious why she would tell that to Ms. Dascoli, but not me. For those of you who commend her hard work, how hard is it to rehash the same irrational and racist content every 60 days. Not that hard.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 8:59 PM

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawon for telling me that white men are the problem although you do not know every white man or how every white man things. You also write it is bad form to quote MLK, why you aren't Black, mostly because white men killed him. How you can say these things against white men and actually believe you are right it just the opposite of what you are trying to change. If a white man can get the quote right of what MLK said, then that white man may be able to help better another white or black man to understand and that is a good thing. I understand that you think and so does the Wednesday Journal, that you are making a change although I do not think by saying white men are the problem is nothing more than holding all white men including people who run the website that allows you to post our comments as the problem. If the white men were against you, they would not let you post your comments

Andrea Kovach from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 8:16 PM

Thank you to ShaRhonda and Susan for speaking truth to power (sometimes at a high volume and repeatedly if necessary). Thank you.

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 7:16 PM

@Gracey, we will have to agree to disagree. Racism, and sexism, has a power dynamic that negates the ability to make real racial progress using "nicety" and "civility." White men, and yes, it is White men, don't "compromise on their power and privilege" because people are "nice" and "civil." FYI, it is bad form to quote MLK, when you aren't Black. Mostly because they (White men) killed him, and, most of us (of all races/genders) don't know MLK's research and work well enough to quote in context. It is like choosing Bible verses. We could go on and on debating what "the Bible says is right." All the best to you!

Grace Dascoli  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 5:55 PM

ShaRohnda you've missed the point entirely. Trustee Buchanan was not "talking to white people" during the recent Oak Park board meeting debacle. She was "talking" to a duly elected member of the city counsel. Her voice at that meeting was no more and no less important that any other counsel members voice. That's how Boards work ShaRohnda. The fact that she attempted to stifle any voice at that table is a slap in the face to the very policy being debated. Fredrick Douglass can also be quoted as saying "To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker." Trustee Buchanan's rant was a clear attempt to silence the voice of her fellow trustee. Sometimes my friend it's not all about black and white, male and female, oppressed vs. oppressor. Sometimes it's about  governmental process and an elected board members duty to the town that elected her.

Deborah Risteen Mercer  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 2:45 PM

Thank you, Ms. Dawson.

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 2:33 PM

Why do people keep conflating/equating bad behavior with effective crusading for civil rights and the death of racism? As both MLK and Gandhi taught us (at one time people learned their lesson), the 2 are NOT necessarily the same-- and in fact, can hurt the causes that we all collectively believe in. Bottom line: Buchanan's behavior is the issue-- not the cause, nor the strong passion for it, nor the sense of urgency. I'm pretty sure that these apologists would be reacting very differently if this disrespectful, shameful behavior came from someone who had a different set of beliefs than their own.

Jim Schwartz  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 2:10 PM

Thank you ShaRhonda Dawson and Susan Buchanan for speaking out. I appreciate your willingness to challenge the status quo, and it is necessary to show emotion to do that. Those who have the power can remain calm because they aren't facing any risks, and then can criticize others for the emotion they express. I support you both!

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 11:31 AM

It seems unfair to the greats of the civil rights movement to compare them in any way to Trustee Buchanan. In her short time on the stage, she chose to insult her neighbors, for no real benefit to her or her cause, as many of whom might otherwise have listened to what she had to say and are now very turned off by her. Maybe her own team will be the one wanting to "tone police" her.

Anne McNamee Keels from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 10:34 AM

Sharonda, thank you for all the thankless labor you do in the name of anti racism. And thank you Trustee Susan Buchanan for being a voice for equity on the board! Many of us Oak Parkers see and deeply appreciate the work you do and the risks you take.

Nick Polido  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 8:30 AM

The editors and publisher of this paper made a conscience effort to ignore Dr. Buchanan's racist tirade in their editorial section (except Halloween thru a equity lens) only to farm that out to there favorite non-resident racist, the one and only ShaRhonda.....

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2019 12:32 AM

@Ramona Lopez: You are such a fount of knowledge on history and other matters, giving citations, that you should have your own blog. You could then list a link here to that, and provide deeper info than will fit on this site. Google and WordPress will let you have one for free. They're relatively easy to set up. Go for it!

Lisa Rader  

Posted: October 15th, 2019 11:17 PM

Thank you, ShaRhonda, for working tirelessly to shine a light on injustice, and for pushing all of us to show up and to bring our best selves to anti-racist work. Regarding Trustee Buchanan, if we consider her comments in the context of this meeting (I was there), it's not hard to understand why her frustration boiled over. And for white people, especially women, who are serious about advancing racial equity, I'm learning we need to get comfortable with discomfort, with expressing righteous anger, with being judged impolite/ rude/ unlikeable. And from this perspective, Trustee Buchanan set a powerful example.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: October 15th, 2019 10:53 PM

@ Zerrin. Could you please be specific and identify a "racist system" we have in Oak Park. Also, once you identify one, please provide some semblance of evidence. When I speak of evidence, think of it as the type one would present to a jury.

Zerrin Bulut from Oak Park  

Posted: October 15th, 2019 10:34 PM

ShaRhonda, Thank you for always speaking truth to power - for dealing with topics that must be dealt with in order to retain our humanity. Trustee Buchanan- I'm so grateful that you stood your ground and expressed the viewpoint that many of us hold- that words do matter, and addressing and dismantling racist systems is crucial. The work that often needs to be done does not always promise an easy, nonconfrontational path, and I'm thankful you were not deterred. Though you may have felt alone during the board discussions that evening, know you are not alone in speaking out for what is just, right, and equitable.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: October 15th, 2019 10:25 PM

"There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs." Booker T Washington

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: October 15th, 2019 10:24 PM

"'What shall we do with the Negro?' I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!" Frederick Douglass

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: October 15th, 2019 10:20 PM

Ms. Dawson, I suggest you read some articles from Walter Williams. Here is a snippet of his work 'Are white people obsessed with and engaged in a conspiracy against black people? Here's an experiment. Walk up to the average white person and ask, "How many minutes today have you been thinking about black people?" If the person isn't a Klansman or a gushing do-gooder liberal, his answer would probably be zero minutes. If you asked him whether he's a part of a conspiracy to undermine the achievement and well-being of black people, he'd probably look at you as if you were crazy. By the same token, if a person asked me: "Williams, how many minutes today have you been thinking about white people?" My answer would probably be, "Not even a nanosecond." Because people don't care about you one way or another doesn't mean they wish you good will, ill will or no will. They just don't give a damn. What are the implications of the people-don't-care vision of how the world works? A major implication is that one's destiny, for the most part, is in one's hands. How you make it in this world depends more on what you do as opposed to whether people like or dislike you."

Jennifer Malone from Oak Park   

Posted: October 15th, 2019 8:20 PM

Thank you for these words and encouragement. #teamantiracism

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