Green is the New Black
Posted: 1:49PM October 8th, 2013 | Comments
Wednesday, I had the great opportunity* to attend the 12th annual Racial Justice Summit hosted by the YWCA of Madison. I had never attended a summit on race before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Being white comes with all sorts of trepidation of what sort of role to take in the fight against racial disparity in our society. Prior to the conference I read Sara Alvarado’s blog post and she was concerned that she might be part of the problem. However, we both share the sentiment that we want to be part of the solution.
The first step is showing up. And show up I did.
The first part of the agenda, after welcome and introductions, was the plenary on the Race to Equity Report. (Report is available through the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families: LINK. The aim of the report is to promote “greater public awareness and understanding of the depth and breadth of the racial disparities that differentiate the white and black experience in Dane County, Wisconsin.” Seeing and hearing the reported data was damning. (I encourage folks to read the report in full.)
Although racial disparity is nothing new, what is new is the magnitude of disparity in Dane County compared to the rest of the country. Unemployment Rate, Percent of Children Living in Poverty, Juvenile and Adult Arrest Rates – all seem to point to Dane County as leading by a substantial margin over the country as a whole.
“But I’m a Madisonian,” I thought to myself while listening to the presentation. “I live in a great city known for its progressive social, economic, and political values.”
Thankfully the Race Summit was not just a look at bleak data, but an opportunity to take action. In the afternoon, the conference spilt into break-out sessions covering economics, families, neighborhoods, education, and justice. I sat in on Making Connections for Neighborhoods and Communities.
Coming from a background in sustainability, I’m no stranger to desperate numbers. But what I wasn’t expecting was the commonality that equity has to sustainability. Disconnected communities reminded me of the disconnected ecosystems in natural resource management. “Cradle to Career” was mentioned several times, which is similar to the holistic cradle to cradle approach we use in resource allocation. Talking about making it better for future generations, long-term return on investments, placemaking, applying a ”lens” to policy, finding champions – these are reflected strongly in the kind of thinking that we do in sustainability work.
It was this a-ha moment that made me realize how important equity is to the sustainability of our community. It’s not just about being “green;” it’s about black, white, and every color in between.
And if I dedicate myself to working towards sustainability in Madison, it would be a practice in cognitive dissonance to not be dedicated to racial equity in Madison as well.
In this sense, I found my role at the Racial Justice Summit. My hope is that other Madisonians come to terms with who we are as the next step in solving the issues of racial disparity.
*A big thank you to Peng Her at the Urban League of Greater Madison for inviting Sustain Dane to the Summit and the work they are doing to promote equity in the Madison Region.