By Gretchen Webster
WESTPORT — “Racism has a cost for everyone,” author Heather McGhee told the annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration Wednesday night at the Westport Library.
McGhee, the author of the best-selling book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together,” became emotional as she spoke to the local audience “just days after a racial massacre” at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
McGhee outlined many moments in U.S. history when Black Americans have been forced to “the bottom of the hierarchy,” she said.
That includes when Social Security benefits were denied to Black workers when domestic and agricultural jobs were exempted from the program; when Americans of color were unable to buy homes in the housing boom after World War II because they were considered a credit risk, and when public amenities such as swimming pools and parks were closed to avoid integration as the civil-rights movement gained momentum.
The lie: Races “are in competition with one another”
Such actions and continuing racial resentment against people of color comes from the belief among some white Americans “that Black people take more from our country than they give,” McGhee said. “It’s not just us that are harmed by this lie — the lie that we are in competition with one another,” she said. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” she said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.
“People of color don’t believe that our progress has to come at white people’s expense,” McGhee said, but unfortunately, some white people believe that they are harmed when Black Americans succeed. Despite years of efforts to combat racism, she said, “a white high school dropout has greater average household wealth than a Black college graduate.”
Debunking “zero sum” theory
In “The Sum of Us” and a TED talk with more than 2 million views, McGhee discusses “the zero sum game,” a theory that when one person or group gains, another person or group loses an equivalent amount. That has led to an even deeper racial divide, she said, as some Americans now promote “the replacement theory,” promoting the view that people of color are replacing whites, who then will be a minority.
“There is only one race — the human race,” McGhee said.
Her talk, postponed from the usual January date for the King commemoration after she caught COVID, was sponsored by the library, the Westport-Weston Interfaith Council, TEAM Westport and the Westport Country Playhouse.
Also featured at the event was a performance by members of the Bridgeport Boys Choir and a virtual performance by dancers from the Regional Center for the Arts in Trumbull.
TEAM Westport reacts to Buffalo massacre
Harold Bailey Jr., the chairman of TEAM Westport, an advisory committee to the first selectwoman on topics of diversity, equity and inclusion, opened the event with a draft statement from the committee “on the issue of belonging in Westport.”
The statement is his organization’s response to the mass shooting that killed 10 people and wounded three others, nearly all of them Black, by a white supremacist last Saturday at a Buffalo supermarket.
“The horrific racist massacre of Black Americans last weekend in Buffalo, New York, is an atrocity that should be a wake-up call to cities and towns across the nation, including our own town of Westport,” the statement read in part.
Other points of the TEAM statement, which Bailey said will be formalized by the committee, include:
- “We must not remain silent when the value of Black lives is questioned.
- We must not remain silent when Asian-Americans are blamed for disease.
- We must not remain silent when anti-Semitic and ethnic slurs are uttered.
- We must not remain silent when the lives of the LGBTQ community are disavowed.
- We must not remain silent when the rights of women to make decisions about their own bodies are threatened.
- We must not allow fear to prevent educational institutions from teaching our country’s factual history to our children.
- We must not remain silent when we hear phrases such as ‘we don’t like that diversity and equity stuff’.”
Gretchen Webster is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Westport Journal. Learn more about us here.
Diversity stuff is fine. Equity stuff is not. Racial discrimination is wrong under all circumstances. Official town committee should not be promoting political opinions. The Town of Westport cannot have an official position on abortion for example. TEAM is out of control.
The Town of Westport’s “official position” is to have people MAKE THEIR OWN DECISION on whether or not to have an abortion. It’s none of your business, Kevin, nor is it mine. It’s really not that deep.
So you are saying the Town of Westport’s official position on abortion (as delivered by our spokesperson/philosopher king Mr. Bailey) is unrestricted access to the procedure? This would contradict Roe v Wade itself, which holds that the states have a legitimate interest in restricting third trimester abortions. What other positions on complex political and legal subjects should I hold as a Westport taxpayer? Perhaps TEAM can just send out a weekly position sheet, so I no longer have to guess what is right and what is wrong. In any event, it’s just so wonderful that in addition to a golf course and beach, Westport has the most valuable amenity of all- a group of morally and intellectually superior volunteers who are valiantly giving their time to guide us and our children, and all Town employees for that matter, towards correct ways of thinking on every topic! Here we are, a largely white (ergo privileged) community, afflicted with unconscious bias, and some of us actually think we are entitled to form our own views. How anachronistic!
We must not remain silent when the African-American community, whipped into a frenzy of racial resentment by BLM and others, is largely responsible for violent assaults against Asians, while progressives pretend it’s Donald Trump’s fault. Promoting tribalism has consequences. Read the stories about the attacks on Asians and ask yourself if you think the perpetrators are responding to 2020 Trump press conferences. Asian Lives Matter more than protecting false narratives. It’s time to get real on this issue, uncomfortable as it may be.
RE Howard Bailey’s list of 7 statements above: How about adding an 8th and essential statement:
“We must not remain silent when perhaps well-intentioned people insist on dividing us by seeing the world in terms of an oppression narrative, thus contributing to racism by referring to whites as privileged oppressors and to blacks as victims, a view that will maintain a never ending racial divide?”
Focussing on racism is counterproductive to continuing the progress achieved to date and disregards all past progress towards equality at the expense of creating more fear and anger. Take a look at the stand that Jonathan Isaac, black NBA player and author of “Why I Stand”, has taken. He chose not to put down those who think differently from him, but to stand for his spiritual belief, without which he would be filled with anger. He chooses to stand for Love and service rather than with Anger, because he has witnessed that the path of anger leads to violence. Anger begets anger. Love begets love.Or consider black FAIR advisor, Daryl Davis, who, by meeting with Klansmen and getting to know them, encouraged many to give up their KKK affiliation.
By insisting on focussing on racism at every moment and by seeing it in others all the time, one misses important facts and fails to see the complete picture. It is essential that we stop using every possible event to prove the existence of a racist world and to further an ideology of oppression that necessarily pits people against each other. Follow Jonathan Isaac’s and Daryl Davis’s examples. Change the world with love, not anger and resentment. Otherwise, you will create exactly what you are combatting. In other words: Beware of the mote in your own eye when focussing on the speck in your brother’s eye.
Harold Bailey is not an organization, he is not an advisor to DEI, he is not an elected official. He is supposed to lead a nice advisory committee on how to make the town more welcoming. That’s it. He’s acting outside of the town charter. He has no place making these sorts of statements on behalf of the town. Why is he taking a political position on abortion? The town and Harold Bailey should not be taking political sides in this matter. Is the First Selectwoman asleep at the wheel? This is way out of bounds.
Fostering division is profitable. Follow the money. Drain the color from the discussion and change the paradigm. The difference between right and wrong has nothing to do with color, race or anything else. The answer to unity is very simple; stop dividing people into groups and pitting one against the other. Someone who feels unreasonably attacked will never move to a position of unity, and probably move in the opposite direction or just remain neutral, preventing society from moving in the right direction.
Just for the record, look at a box of Crayola crayons………”white” is a “color” as well.
I attended the event and found Ms. McGhee’s talk moving and deeply thought-provoking; I think her analysis of the relationship between the histories of race and public goods in the U.S. goes a long way in providing insight into both areas. (The talk was also one of the best-delivered I’ve ever seen, both captivating and densely informative; I’m looking forward to reading her book!)