a conversation that hasn't happened
I interviewed a woman who lives in a small city of 40,000 people. She’s a retired teacher and
she talked about valuing kindness. She acknowledged that she personally never experienced racism, but she saw it: a local cathedral defaced in May 2021 with hate symbols, an East Indian friend who got a note on her car “go back where you came from”, and, when this interviewee was a child, she recalled the KKK burned a cross on her school’s football field because the local college, which shared the field, had elected a black homecoming queen.
When I asked her what a U.S. without racism looks like, she said, “That’s hard to imagine because I know racism exists here, probably for Native Americans more than anything.” She shared that there are seven different Indian reservations in her state. Some are doing well, others are not. I inquired what she would do if she learned her house was on stolen land, and I watched this kind empathetic woman recoil and quickly reply, “I wouldn’t want it taken away. I bought and paid for my land. I have a hard time seeing how that could happen. I don’t know how they could take land away from other people.”
I then asked, “What if there was another alternative? Not ‘give us back our land,’ but co-creating a future that is mutually beneficial.” I shared with her information about Germantown Residents for Economic Alternatives Together (GREAT), an organization I had learned about working on another project in a different part of the country. GREAT utilizes tools and concepts of solidarity economy, such as learning circles about community land trusts, mutual aid, time banking, a tool library, and more to build a just Germantown.
“That sounds really good,” she responded. “I can offer to help here.”
Three weeks later, I interviewed a Native American woman who lives on a reservation in the same state about three hours away. She shared the challenges her community is facing. She shared that in a U.S. without racism, she would “wake up knowing she was protected.” She also shared the work her tribe is doing to get around the obstacles of racism: immersion classes in the native language, teacher training programs, a court system based on tribal rehabilitation model, folks running for office, and more.
I told her about the other woman I had interviewed and learned that the first interviewee does in fact live on land that had previously been land of the second interviewee’s tribe. I asked what, if anything, she would you say to her? She replied, “I’d say, ‘I’m not trying to make you feel guilty or trying to take your land back, but can you to support us in self-actualization? That will help all of us.’ I’d encourage her to interact more, talk to your neighbors, build understanding, learn about the issues and vote. I think she would want fairness for all.”
I promised confidentiality to the interviewees of this project. They will be acknowledged as a group, alphabetically by last name (unless they request to be anonymous), without direct attributions. So, this conversation between these two women from different corners of their state has not happened.
I often wish I could connect many of the interviewees.