Work needs to be done on problem of racism

Posted

To the editor:

We are writing as members of BRIDGE's Towards Racial Justice (TRJ) Community and Accountability Team in response to recent letters to the editor about racism at the Jacob's Pillow gala. We are committed to BRIDGE's mission and leadership working for racial justice, equity, and inclusion through education, dialogue, and organizing in our community, and we believe it is crucial to speak out.

We were dismayed by the initial responses to Pamela Tatge's column that minimized and dismissed the experiences shared by a Jacob's Pillow patron who had her hair touched without her consent, who was rudely interrogated about her heritage, and who was dehumanized by the unacceptable behavior of several white patrons at the gala. The authors of the letters claimed that what Ms. Tatge described sounded unrealistic, suggesting this "could not happen here," but the truth is that these experiences are commonplace for people of color in the Berkshires. So, too, are dismissive, skeptical reactions that uphold the comfort of white people above all else. These letters invalidated experiences of racism through character assassination, and they prioritized white people's experiences, perspectives, and defensiveness over the humanity of people of color in our community.

Addressing racism and creating lasting change must begin by listening to — and believing — the experiences of people of color in our community. We must be willing to engage in deep, often painful dialogue. How are we complicit in and contributing to a culture of white supremacy and racism in our community? What actions can we take to disrupt this culture?

BRIDGE is regularly called upon to support responses to racist incidents across Berkshire County in schools, businesses, arts institutions, and other organizations, providing tools to open up dialogue and begin the process of acknowledgement of harm, restoration, and repair. We want to thank Jacob's Pillow for engaging in this work, and for speaking up publicly about this incident and for their previous efforts to address cultural appropriation within their work and in the "Dance We Must" exhibit on the Pillow campus. The fact is, "incidents" like these are symptomatic of a culture that needs to shift, and all of us need to be actively and consistently involved in this work. We need to engage in generative conversations to produce positive social impact and hold space for hearing and understanding diverse experiences and perspectives.

We are calling our community and the organizations within it to be accountable for the routine harm that has been, and continues to be, done to people of color. We ask that we move forward with courage and care. Denying the experiences of people of color in our community only deepens trauma and harm. Listening to these experiences, stepping into dialogue and education, asking tough questions, and working together to make change are necessary steps on the path to creating a community where people of color feel safe, valued, and supported.

Gwendolyn VanSant,

Great Barrington

The writer is BRIDGE CEO. The other members of BRIDGE's TRJ Community & Accountability Team are Stephanie Wright of Sheffield; Vanessa Legrande of Great Barrington; Ari Cameron of Pittsfield; Lily Swartz of Great Barrington; Tim Likarish of Great Barrington; Curtis Mraz of Sheffield; Jeff Lowenstein of Housatonic; Luke Pryma of Great Barrington and Sara Mugridge of Monterey

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