Activist Profile: Kathryn Clarke, Raleigh

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As a kid growing up in rural eastern NC, I was aware of racial disparities, along with the unfair advantages across the spectrum for middle and upper class citizens, who were mostly white. Like many, I suppose, I thought back then, "That's just the way it is." As a young adult I learned that it doesn't have to be this way and that it shouldn't be this way, and that I could be part of the solution.

Today I'm a member of ROAR, which stands for Raleigh Organizing Against Racism. We're a relatively young, but rapidly growing organization, and most of our activism at this juncture is devoted to coordinating racial equity trainings--the reason being we know that without a historically accurate education that includes an analysis of present conditions and a personal exploration of our individual biases, true change cannot and will not happen.

I attended Racial Equity Institute's Phase I training two years ago and learned just how much I (a well-educated American with a 4-year degree from UNC-Chapel Hill) did not know about the extent of racial disparities in this country and why they exist in the first place. It was then that I became involved in ROAR. In my gut I knew we were far from being a post-racial society, though many had made this claim after President Obama was elected. In the training it became terribly clear that racism is not dead, but has evolved and taken on new forms that are not always easy to see.

One example is in the blaming and shaming of people of color in this country who need government assistance to survive. It should be noted that the same attitudes are not typically extended to white people in the same circumstances, who I'll add make up a larger percentage of those receiving assistance. We need to be asking ourselves and each other why that is. What messages are embedded in our collective psyche that cause us to attribute blame to one group and extend compassion to the other?

I like to think we are a generous people, but we're very limited in our understanding about the world outside our bubbles; yet with our votes (or lack thereof) we impact EVERYONE. We need to know how we as individuals hurt others when we don't understand and when we perpetuate, intentionally or not, racial bias.

In REI training, participants come to understand it's the lake we're all swimming in that needs to be fixed, not the fish. When the data shows children of color, regardless of socioeconomic status, have worse outcomes across the board (health, education, criminal justice, and on and on), we have a responsibility to identify the root cause and address it. Some of us know the root cause is institutional racism, but before we can fix it we need everyone to understand this truth.

I'm a mama first, and that's what motivates my activism. I have a white child and a black child, and I should not have to worry that my black child, no matter what he does, faces greater risks to his well-being than my white child. But he does, and I worry every day of my life. I don't have a choice to sit back and let others do the heavy lifting, but the truth is that none of us should be making that choice. I'd like to appeal to everyone, including (maybe especially) white people with families and work and busy lives, to take part in anti-racism work. We are all in this together, and as Fannie Lou Hammer said, "No one is free until everyone is free."

Full disclosure: I still consider myself an activist-in-training. We have so many brilliant, local folks leading the charge for a better state, nation and world, but it's not enough to leave it to them. We must all be activists, whether in big or small ways. We are all responsible for America's kids and her future.


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