At The New Orleans Tribune, we find ourselves discussing many of the same issues over and over again—criminal justice and mass incarceration, achievement gaps in education, wealth gaps and economic inequality, gentrification, disparities in housing, healthcare, public school funding, banking, unemployment and poverty. Name it—and we are certain that over the past 34 years we have talked about it in more than a few ways because these are the issues that impact the community we serve. Yet, we wonder why, in all these years, it seems as if very little has changed. We question whether we have made any tangible progress as a nation, a state and city. And we lament that the answer must be “no” precisely because we find ourselves bemoaning and writing about the same issues we have covered for more than three decades now.
So, why do we do continue to do it?
We ponder that question momentarily and then we get back to the work that we do—highlighting, informing, celebrating the positive, exposing ugly truths and championing action and change.
Last year, both The New Orleans Tribune‘s Executive Editor Beverly McKenna and Managing Editor Anitra Brown, on separate occasions, had the opportunity to take part in the NOLA Racial Equity Institute along with several other New Orleanians from all walks of life.
The workshop serves as a foundational training in historical and institutional racism. The two-day seminar is led by trainers and facilitators from the Greensboro, N.C.-based Racial Equity Institute, LLC. The NOLA REI is organized by a group of young local business and civic leaders, Shawn Barney, Andrea Chen, Allen Square and Emily Madero.
Barney believes it is important for as many people as possible in seats of power and influence across New Orleans to participate in the workshop.
And we encourage anyone who has not taken part in it to do so soon.
“If you are a large employer or sit on the board of a large employer, we think that in order to be effective in a city that is diverse like New Orleans, leaders need to be steeped in racial equity and understand systemic racism.”
Barney describes NOLA REI as primarily self-funded, though some support as come from a few organizations. The independence is key to the “authenticity” and “autonomy” of the workshop, he says.
Admittedly, Tribune staff who took part in the REI workshop approached it with a bit of skepticism, wondering exactly what would be revealed to us that we didn’t already know. But by Day 2, our perspectives had changed dramatically. It wasn’t so much about what was revealed, but rather how. Concepts were defined and re-defined. Well-known and even some obscure facts were clearly detailed and then tied to our historical and contemporary realities as a nation. Specific events, acts and official government policies and their impacts on race and equity (or the lack thereof) in America were discussed openly. But more than that, the NOLA REI workshop makes abundantly clear that in order to address racial inequity, we cannot ignore race or racism, no matter how uncomfortable the subject might be. Instead, the root causes of inequity and disparity must be identified. Race must be recognized as a relevant factor. The historical legacies of structural racism must be thoroughly examined, and problems must be viewed through the lens of racial equity. In short, in every category that matters in American life, more often than not equity is absent. The lack of equity presents itself in the form of disparity. And in order to achieve equity, the focus must shift from symptoms to the broken systems. The good news is that every one can do something.
At the end of the NOLA REI workshop, participants are asked to identify at least one area within their realm of influence and sphere of expertise that they will work to address inequity and then make a written pledge to it. In other words, do what you can, where you are, with what you have.
Once folk truly understand what they are fighting against, they can wage war.
And with that, The New Orleans Tribune enters 2019 with a renewed commitment to continue and deepen the discussion about race and equity with the hope that it will spur others to consider their own place within the systems that define this nation and to determine the ways in which they can work to impact and to dismantle institutional racism. We pledge that hroughout the year, we will examine racial inequity in every area in which inequity and disparity exist in America in a monthly series titled “Let’s Talk About Equity”.
We will look at disparate conditions in America that break down along racial lines across several systems from historical and contemporary perspectives with the understanding that these disparate conditions are not trends. Instead they are the result of systemic and institutional racism. They are the result of this country’s lengthy history of racist policies.
In this issue, we will begin with a look at our criminal justice system, the pervasive inequities and disparate policies that have fueled them.