After months of debate and sometimes-violent national turmoil over racial equity, has America and its political leaders finally reached a tipping point signaling systemic change?
“If past is prelude, white people probably aren’t at a tipping point,” former Minneapolis mayor and author Betsy Hodges said during a panel discussion on racial issues Thursday that wrapped up the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities’ (CCM) annual convention. “But it could be. This is a moment where a lot more white people are open to it. There’s less resistance to policy change right now.”
Hodges was one of five nationally-known speakers who held a two-hour remote discussion with an estimated Zoom audience of about 300 also carried live by several online outlets.
The panel was part of a “CCM Cares” discussion series related to the presidential and General Assembly elections that involved more than 30 community and municipal leaders from across Connecticut.
In addition to a broad exploration of the myriad issues that have driven the national debate – including how people of color are treated by police and the challenges they face in employment, housing and health care – the panel focused on what state and local government officials can do to advance equity in their communities.
“It takes political courage,” said Bree Newsome Bass, an activist who drew national attention when she removed the confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol building after nine Black parishioners were killed at the AME Zion Church. “You can’t just wait for there to be popular support for racial justice. We are facing structural breakdown and racism has a lot to do with the way the structural breakdown is happening.”
Tim Wise, author of “White Like Me,” agreed with the majority of the panel that even with the current national climate regarding the issue, there is no guarantee of lasting progress being made.
“We’ve had a lot of these moments that were supposed to wake us up,” Wise said. “But local leaders need to have the courage to say ‘I will die on this hill – I’ll lose my job over this one.’ You have to be courageous enough to take flak from everybody.”
Speakers also addressed how the COVID-19 pandemic has not only spotlighted racial disparities in the health care system, but has shown that government is not adequately equipped to handle the countless effects such a widespread crisis has on people of any ethnicity.
“It’s an exposure of things we knew were there but never had courage to address before COVID,” said Wes Moore, CEO of Robin Hood, one of the country’s largest anti-poverty organizations. “You can’t just separate all of these things.
Newsome Bass called the pandemic “a real concrete demonstration of how the health of one individual in this society affects all of us. It would be naïve for me to think that what’s happening in South Dakota is not going to affect me in North Carolina.”
Moderator Clarence Anthony, Executive Director of the National League of Cities, had opened the discussion with the tipping-point question, and ended it with his own observation.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “But we have an opportunity here. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter or any other group in America, they deserve to be heard in a respectful way. This is the start of a journey. I don’t think any of us want to have this conversation three to five years from now.”