Maine Initiatives exists to advance justice and equity in our state. Over the past year and a half, we have prioritized the specific issues of racial justice and equity in our work and, in so doing, we have come to understand that issues of justice and equity broadly – and racial justice and equity specifically – are fundamentally relational. They have to do with how we understand ourselves and ourselves in relation to others. Any effort to advance justice and equity must necessarily include a conversation about who we are and who we aspire to be.
We also acknowledge that racial injustice and racial inequities were woven into the fabric of our nation at its birth. For this reason, they deserve primacy of place for those of us seeking to advance justice and equity in our community. For us, it is not a question of preferences or priorities, it is fundamentally about capacity.
If we do not confront racial injustice and racial inequity – original sins that reside in the very heart of our nation – how can we expect to achieve any other aspiration with regards to justice and equity? And, inversely, to the extent that we can address issues of racial injustice and inequity, we build our collective capacity to address all other forms of injustice and inequity. Our capacity for any justice is proportional to our progress on racial justice.
While we, as a nation, have made progress with regard to these issues, the essential truth about racial justice and equity is that core questions – Who am I? Who am I in relation to the other people in my community? Who are we together? – must be asked and answered anew by every generation. It is wrong to think that any present or future generation is absolved from having to confront these questions again. Every generation must decide. Every community must decide. Every person must decide. This is the work of democratic citizenship.
This is not to suggest that each subsequent generation is destined to a never-ending purgatory, repeating the same painful mistakes of the past. No. Each successive generation stands on the shoulders of the giants and heroes of the past, and the questions of racial justice and equity that we confront today hold potential and promise that weren’t available to our forebears. We can bring about greater justice and equity in our time than they ever thought possible.
But the opposite is also true. We can regress. We can cede our inheritance to a dark and dystopian vision of greater injustice and inequity. We witnessed these two visions presented in stark relief in the horrifying events in Charlottesville this past weekend. There are forces who would take us into a dark future of conflict. All that is required of us is that we do nothing.
That is not who we are. We will speak. We will act. We will come together as a community to ask:
What does racial justice mean?
What does it look like?
What does it require?
And we will do that work.