Monday, April 27, 2015

Awkward moments

I was walking through Hiemenga Hall at Calvin College the other day when a student invited me to consider signing a petition that was up on an easel as a way to show my support for standing against racism. Okay let me just pause right there and process that information. Racism is bad. I am against racism with every fibre of my body. But I also am sceptic about signing petitions and then not seeing much action that would really change things. I have been a critic of the way I think anti-racism and diversity work is done in my circles and even at Calvin College. There are just too many workshops and posters and slogans that I sometimes can't see the real policies and practices that go to change the situation. I did not feel compelled to sign a petition but was curious as to what end goal would be for the campaign. 
So I decided to walk towards the poster, which was co-sponsored by the YMCA. I saw a number of students signing the petition. Of course they will sign it. Who would say no to an invitation to sign something that says one stands against racism? Especially when the student inviting you says it so loud as to attract attention in a very public place with a lot of human traffic? Would refusing to sign insinuate that you are racist? I am sure those that signed the poster are truly against racism but I still was curious who would publicly say "no I do not wish to sign a petition that says I stand against racism."
But I did and with some reason. I walked to the student and asked what would be the end result of the petition. He tried to explain and I pushed him and he basically agreed with me that it would probably be put up on a wall somewhere. But to his defense he added that it would show that we stand with the YMCA against racism. Satisfied with his answer I politely told him I would not sign it. I think he was a little surprised and so was another person keenly paying attention to our conversation from a distance. 
My worry is that sometimes we get too caught up in petitions and workshops that we lose the real change making processes. It is one thing to say you are against racism and another to take specific actions in changing policies and enacting specific practices that help move the process forward to minimize racism. Okay I just had to write this piece. 

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