By David M. Greenwald
When the Davis Mosque was defiled by an act of hateful vandalism, Kate Mellon-Anibaba helped to organize a community gathering in Central Park where over 1000 people gathered in solidarity with the Muslim community. When George Floyd was killed last year, Kate again helped to organize and found the Solidarity Space in Central Park.
She got good news recently. The location in Central Park “will become a permanent art installment, including a community art build component and funding for programming in the space.”
She posted on Facebook on Wednesday, “Along with the art, International House Davis will also be holding a series of anti-racism training for local non profits. These are all huge successes worth celebrating.”
Unfortunately, before she could do so, there was a letter in the local paper from Timothy Nutter complaining about it.
He noted that in August of 2020, the council approved $50,000 in art grants for social justice programming, in his words “in response to last summer’s convulsions.”
He writes, “The contents of this grant deserve a second look.”
He notes, “The second part involves erecting a public artwork and organizing associated activities in the vein of the pop-up shrine in Central Park, only this time the shrine will be permanent and the organizers and other activity participants, selected on the basis of race, will be paid.
“Of course, Davis already has many diversity murals, apparently to palliate the neurotic consciences of local progressives,” he writes. “We don’t also need a pyramid in Central Park to observe a
Nutter continues: “The third part asks for $10,000 to fund “anti-racism” workshops to train nonprofits to be less racist and to help them begin building an anti-racist bureaucracy, led by a facilitator selected exclusively on the basis of her proximity to Davis and her race.”
He writes: “Fortunately, we don’t need anti-racism workshops, just like we don’t need workshops to help people stop desecrating the host. Given the approval of this grant, the need for cultivating an anti-racism bureaucracy seems equally absent.”
He argues: “Rather than refashioning the arts department into an arm of the critical social justice movement, city staff should focus on economic development, facility management, and partnerships with UCD. There is work to do. But anti-racism isn’t it.”
But isn’t it? From the tragic killing of Thong Hy Hunh to current racial inequities in policing, the Davis community is not immune to issues of race.
Certainly this week, our city council by unfortunate happenstance of history stood in solidarity with tragic events in Atlanta, where eight people were killed, six of them Asian women.
In a sad irony the Davis City Council passed a strong resolution on Tuesday night against anti-Asian hate, noting the Davis city council “hereby condemns racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against persons of Asian heritage and Pacific Island heritage; and accepts responsibility for preventing and correcting racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against everyone in the city, including persons of Asian heritage or Pacific Island heritage.
“(The) COVID-19 pandemic, inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric has put persons of Asian heritage or Pacific Island heritage, families, communities, and businesses at risk,” the resolution says. “The City of Davis recognizes that statements at the federal level have played a role in furthering xenophobic sentiments, including references to the COVID-19 pandemic by the geographic location of its origin.”
Unfortunately the strong message comes at a time when it is desperately needed. Last night, eight people were shot to death in three massage parlors in the Atlanta area. News reports note that the shootings, where six of the eight killed were Asian and all but one were women, raise fears that the crimes may have targeted people of Asian descent.
In a strong message from Stop AAPI Hate, the nation’s leading coalition documenting and addressing anti-Asian hate and discrimination, they condemned the killings calling them “an unspeakable tragedy” for both the victims’ families and an Asian-American community that has “been reeling from high levels of racist attacks.”
The lesson of Martin Luther King must resonate—injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere—and the corollary, injustice to anyone is a threat to justice to everyone.
The language that Nutter uses, not just in his last two sentences but throughout his letter, belies the exact need for a better understanding of anti-racism.
As Ibram Kendi points out, people these days are very quick to defend themselves by declaring they are “not racist.” Not only is that not true, but it is also not sufficient.
Kendi argues that it’s not enough to say you’re not a racist. “What’s the problem with being ‘not racist?’ ” Kendi writes in the introduction. “It is a claim that signifies neutrality: ‘I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.’ ”
He adds: “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist.”
The letter here illustrates exactly why anti-racism is needed in Davis. Having a public space as a shrine to anti-racism and the legacy of police violence seems very appropriate in a community like Davis.
I join many others in commending Kate Mellon-Anibaba and others for helping create such a space.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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