On July 11th, 2022, Peace & Justice Center (PJC) staff arrived for a virtual meeting with the Rotary Club in Poultney, at the request of the Rotary Club members, ready to discuss our educational programs and approach. We were not prepared for the resistance to the reality of systemic racism within the Rotary Club.
We meet regularly with organizations outside PJC to discuss our educational programs. When the organization’s needs do not align with our programming, the meeting concludes with mutual respect. These meetings have not concluded with the combative censure the Rotary meeting did.
Before our full meeting with the Rotary Club members, we met with one member over the phone to discuss the programs we offer and how to tailor courses to their needs. After that conversation, we were confident that, with some tailoring, our 101 Seeing and Disrupting Racism workshop would be a good fit.
At the full meeting, after some introductions and our initial pitch, as well as some questions about pricing and logistics, several members began to speak with hostility about racial justice work.
In direct response to our staff member’s explanation of the concept of systemic racism, members stated, “we don’t have a racism problem.”
Systemic racism is embedded within all organizations in the United States, and it is first and foremost about the harm done to individuals of color, not about the moral character of the perpetrators of harm.
Claiming that any organization, especially a historically privileged, white-led organization, is an outlier to systemic oppression shows a complete lack of understanding and, more problematically, an unwillingness to engage in steps toward racial justice.
The Rotary Club listed off the global organizations they work with, implying they have ‘done ‘enough’ to support global minority communities. They considered the recent concerns brought to light to be isolated incidents with one specific individual. The incident they were defending also involves the PJC indirectly. This spring, one of our new BIPOC consultant facilitators, who is also a Poultney Rotary Club member, was interested in bringing PJC racial justice programming to the Club after racist and transphobic comments were made during a Rotary meeting. No accountability was taken by current members for this incident, and as demonstrated by our meeting with members, there is not a strong desire to take responsibility for interpersonal or organizational harms.
As we work to uproot racism, we cannot only focus on the racism between individuals, but we must also acknowledge the existence of systemic, internalized, and institutional racism as well. Although one is a symptom of the other, all must be addressed.
We write this statement to stand by our facilitator who saw the need for this work in their community and was subjected to the emotional harm that comes with racism and transphobia.
We are prepared and eager to work with organizations that combat similar obstacles, and we must be met with at least some willingness to listen. We hope that the members of the Rotary Club take immediate action in understanding and addressing all forms of racism rooted in their community.
– The Peace & Justice Center staff