On Truth Telling: Notes from the Race 2 Equity Conference in Detroit

neighborhood racism

“Truth provides the foundation for reconciliation. Reconciliation provides the foundation for hope. Without truth there is no forgiveness, without forgiveness there is no future.”

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of being able to attend the Race 2 Equity Conference sponsored by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion in Detroit.

Photo Credit: http://www.miroundtable.org/

The Conference

The Race 2 Equity Conference was held under the premise that:

“This nation was established on the promise of equality and opportunity.  Delivering on this promise for all people is an ongoing struggle.  We all share a linked fate.  As we fulfill this promise, we all benefitWhen any individual or group is denied equality and opportunity, we all suffer.  Having the courage to examine and understand our history can help build a more just society.  Truth provides the foundation for reconciliation.  Reconciliation provides the foundation for hope and the promise of a supportive and inclusive future.”

Their Declaration of Intent also declared these assertions:

  • “The Contemporary Challenge: Detroit is the most segregated region in the country”
  • “Racism casts a long shadow over the experiences of all of Southeast Michigan.”
  • “We still feel the effects of these troubled times.”
  • “Racial segregation is also the segregation of hope and opportunity for the future.”
  • An inclusive and prosperous future can only be ensured by an inquiry into and understanding the structural dynamics of racial segregation past and present.”
  • The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, inspired by the process that took place in South Africa, will allow us to develop an appropriate understanding of past injustices and to envision constructive remedies to create a new regional culture of fairness, equal opportunity, and improved prosperity.”

A Truth Commission was established in order to take an honest look at the past, to ways to right wrongs and move forward toward an equitable and inclusive future.

To give you a feel for the day, here are a few of my notes from the keynote speech as well as from other panelists in workshops I attended.

How Truth & Reconciliation relates to housing in Detroit:

Earlier in the morning, a local Detroit resident explained a brief background of  Truth & Reconciliation Commission that took place in South Africa.  For some really in-depth documentation, click here.

After the speaker had finished, someone asked the question: “Can you explain how Truth & Reconciliation relates to housing in Detroit?” The speaker (who was white) responded by saying:

  “I have a quick example for you.  I live on (gave street name) in Detroit.  I’m the second owner, but I still have the original deed to my home. The original deed says “For White Christians Only.” These kinds of truths need to be told and acknowledged in order for us to have real reconciliation.”

She then went on to talk about some of the Federal Housing Administration’s racist policies that contributed to and maintained housing segregation in Detroit and beyond, and how the residual effects of those policies still exist today.

These kinds of truths need to be told in order for us to have real reconciliation.

Speakers/Panelists

1. Naomi Tutu Keynote speaker for day one of the Race 2 Equity Conference.

 She told us about a moving apology letter written by a soldier that she had heard being read aloud during a truth and reconciliation process that said:

“I did not know what was being done in my name…all the killing, the torture…but over time, I came to understand that I chose not to know.”

Tutu then posed this question to the crowd:

“How often do we choose not to know, & actively find ways to quiet the voices of those who are trying to tell us?”

She went on to talk about some of the ways in which we try to quiet the voices of those who try to tell us the truth, saying : “We  find it in the jailing, vilifying of people who speak out”; noting that many people in history who have sought to be champions for justice  have been punished, threatened, or even killed for attempting to change the status quo.

“There’s something powerful in the act of listening”

Lessons she learned on Apartheid Through Truth Commissions:

While talking about some of her experiences with Truth & Reconciliation Commissions, Naomi noted reminded us that not everyone who shared was completely honest.

In revealing the details of the atrocities they committed to the families of their victims during Apartheid, some told stories that were different from the truth, only to recant when the real evidence was discovered.

“We learned how we (as human beings) can turn our back on humanity, we learned about how we can be in denial about who we can become,and about how we lie to protect others views of us, and our views of ourselves.”

On Telling the Truth in America

“In America, history is something that we want to look back on and be proud of, and if it’s not, we don’t want to hear it. We erase it”

“In public education, slavery was a paragraph. To skip over it and water it down is to do a huge disservice to ourselves.”

Her words about erasing history that doesn’t sit comfortable to us reminded me of my own educational process where chapters and lessons on slavery were lacking at best, and particularly watered down.

It was not until after I had gone to college that I was able to hear in-depth accounts of slavery in the United states and abroad in the classroom, and even then, I had to work hard to seek out the information.

Even now, there are attempts to remove controversial language out of texts that captured the times of the day, and even more changes are being made in the educational system to even further limit the conversation on slavery and other controversial parts of American history.

“If we’re striving for wholeness, justice, equity, It can only be gained on the basis of truth, the whole story.”

Getting Back to Reconciliation

“It’s about wanting to become all of us, instead of “us vs. them”

“Only when we look at our experience fully, will we be able to get the whole truth”

“We must encourage truth even when, especially when that truth sits uncomfortable with us.”

“It’s a costly work. Work that might send you home not wanting to come back, but it’s work that is done for all of us.”

“When We as humans decide to be our greatest selves, nothing can stand in our way.”

Restorative Justice Panel

2. Ron Scott, representing the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality

“There’s a difference between public safety and controlling the public.”

“It’s not hard to become a criminal. As more statues change, it becomes easier. Assaulting an officer can be as simple as asking why you’re being arrested. Resisting and obstructing has become synonymous with “hello”. Show me your bruises officer.”

“Churches can be safe places to build peace circles for restorative justice.”

3. Regina Scott, representing the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office

 “There is an overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.” They receive higher and more strict sanctions for the same crimes as whites. This is evident in the adult system as well.”

On What Causes the Overrepresentation

“Every day, we are socializing our youth to live in a police state. Youth of color have to see police in school on a daily basis. This doesn’t happen in other communities.”

“The negative stereotypes of African-Americans contribute to the harsher outcomes.”

Methods to Use Media for Social Justice via Allied Media

“It’s important for us to tell our own stories instead of letting others tell it for us.”

Attending the conference reminded me of how important telling the truth is on the path to reconciliation. As Naomi Tutu said: “We must encourage truth even when…especially when that truth sits uncomfortable with us.”

Although the conference addressed institutional racism, I can see how truth-telling can help on the path to reconciliation in addressing social problems related to other social identities as well.

Something I’m thinking about moving forward is monitoring myself so I can try as best I can to keep my senses open when someone is trying to tell me the truth, particularly in an area where I might have the privilege of not having to know the information.

“How often do we choose not to know, & actively find ways to quiet the voices of those who are trying to tell us?”

Ubuntu!

From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW

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Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW

I'm a social justice worker interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and using peace as non-violent action. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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1 Response

  1. January 25, 2015

    […] On Truth Telling: Notes from the Race 2 Equity Conference in Detroit NAH Blog (Relando Thompkins, MSW) […]

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