Why Black Lives Matter
By: Rebecca Jamieson, Substitute Staff
The woman standing across the cash register from me was starting to cry. As I had begun to ring up her groceries a moment earlier, our conversation had started in the usual way: “Hello, how are you?” But instead of responding to that question with the routine “Fine, thanks,” we had each told the truth: our hearts were hurting. This was the week that two more unarmed Black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, had been killed by police. This was not a week for “fine, thanks.” What had happened was not fine, and neither were we. In our brief conversation, the woman shared that she was terrified her two young sons would be in danger their whole lives, simply because they were Black. As tears filled both of our eyes, all I could do was ask her if she wanted a hug. She said yes.
Hugs are a good start, but they aren’t enough. The magnitude of the racism our country is grappling with is apparent to anyone who reads the news. Racially influenced, state-condoned shootings of innocent people continue, with no justice for the victims or their families. Unfortunately, these larger systems of oppression are the repercussions of the often-unconscious racial conditioning that we all receive as people living in the U.S., with its long history of genocide, slavery, and oppression. As a White person, I’ve come to realize over and over again that if I want real change, I have to work not just to heal racism on an institutionalized level, but on a very personal level as well. And that personal healing and unlearning of racial conditioning is a lifelong process.
Something I deeply value about working at People’s Co-op is our commitment to anti-oppression work and social justice. Two of our Ends statements directly address this, striving to be: “a safe, welcoming community where all are valued,” and “a passionate community working together for human rights and social justice.” People’s has been working to address issues of oppression in many different areas for a long time. In the last few years, we’ve been working even harder to address the systemic forms of oppression that affect our community, our store, our staff, and shoppers, whether they show up in obvious or more subtle ways. We’ve brought in speakers, held anti-oppression trainings for staff, and formed ongoing “caucus” groups that serve to educate staff around issues such as White and male privilege. Caucus groups also exist to support staff who deal with oppression on a daily basis, including groups for those who are women-identified and people of color.
The reason People’s has been working harder to address oppression is that we’ve seen how our own oppressive conditioning, if left unaddressed, creates an environment that is not “a place for all people” - another thing we strive for. Our increased effort to address how privilege and oppression affects us was largely spearheaded by People’s staff who face the most oppression, even though it is not their responsibility to educate those of us who have more privilege, or are less aware. Just like me, People’s still has room to grow in learning how to address these painful patterns. But this work can’t be done alone. We need each other - for learning, for healing, for support, for inspiration, for change.
In the spirit of learning from and supporting each other, and taking meaningful action in alignment with our Ends, People’s will be holding several events and actions coming up soon:
- During the month of August, we’ll be holding a donation drive at the registers to support the Portland chapter of Black Lives Matter. Just tell your cashier you’d like to make a donation, or round up your purchase. More information about Black Lives Matter can be found here. This article is a good place to start if you are wondering why saying “All Lives Matter” is so upsetting to many who are working for racial justice.
- People’s will host letter writing sessions in support of Campaign Zero to end police violence. The sessions will take place on Friday August 12th 5:30pm-7:30pm, and Sunday August 21st 3:30pm-5:30pm in our community room. Snacks will be served. Everyone is welcome.
- People’s will be partnering with the Portland Underground Graduate School to offer a class in our Community Room called: Elegizing Black Lives. This class will explore how African American poets elegized victims of lynching and state violence, as well as celebrating acts of resistance. The class will run on Wednesdays August 10-31, from 6-8pm in the People’s Community Room. Space is limited. Read more and register here.
- Starting in October, People’s will offer an ongoing yoga class for people of color. Details to come.
- Also in October, People’s will start a White privilege discussion group. Details to come.
- Black Lives Matter buttons are available for all shoppers at the registers!