Why an Exploration of Racism Discussion Group at LCDP?

By Ralph Knudson, co-leader of the Discussion group and LCDP Executive Board member

“Not everything that we face can be changed, but nothing can be changed until we face it”

(James Baldwin)

What voters just made the essential difference to put the national Democratic party barely in charge of the House, Senate and Presidency as of this last election? Why is the GOP now so focused on vote suppression of racially marginalized people as a primary strategy to regain power? Why has the GOP gained dominant influence with lower class and less educated whites? Why does that same group of whites consistently vote “against their own interests”, especially about economic support initiatives? What is the risk for the nation and the Democratic Party, of taking votes from racially marginalized people for granted? What is the benefit of actively joining with racially marginalized people: to learn and understand their untold history, perceptions and experiences; and then to address national and regional needs from that perspective? What is the risk?

Why does our La Crosse Democratic party have only a handful of racially marginalized people as active, participating members? Do we want to change that? What do we need to do for that to happen? How do we start?

A group of LCDP members believes that we need to learn about and face the structural racism that is lurking within these questions. We want to open discussions with our local Democratic party board and members about this basic and crucially current issue. That’s why we have started an ongoing book discussion group about racism/anti-racism as a start towards becoming effective, supportive allies for racially marginalized people in our community.

Structural racism surrounds all of us on a daily basis. If we hope to deconstruct it, we need to be allies with marginalized people to understand and face it realistically. We truly need each other, to save all of us from the worsening corrosion of racism undoing justice and our democracy. We also need each other to rise above the crisis and create a vision that everyone (including disenfranchised whites) can get behind and support. Like fish in water, we’ve been raised within a system of racial assumptions we don’t easily see…unless we’ve lived with being racially marginalized. We in the dominant (white) group are not personally responsible for creating racial injustice, but we now have a great responsibility to see it and work to undo it. Only after we see and understand it better, can we then effectively work together to challenge and dismantle it. We believe that antiracist work begins right here, and right now.

We are reading and discussing books by both white and racially marginalized authors about large issues of racism history and structure in the USA; and also about personal learning, change and growth about internalized racist assumptions and social reinforcers of racial injustice. So far, we have read and discussed “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, and are reading “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson. Next, we will read “But I’m not a Racist” by Kathy OBear and will then read “The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee. Subsequent books (or podcasts, videos or presentations) to be discussed will be determined as we go…especially shaped by participant interest and suggestions. Discussions are online via Zoom. We strive to create an open, safe and nonjudgmental space where everyone can speak, listen and be heard. We strive to ask far more questions than to presume answers…believing that doing so will help each of us develop our own new insights, questions and desire to finally change the system. That’s what politics does at its best. That’s what political parties are for. By reading and learning together, we hope to face racism anew; as a party of justice and change.