In response to reports of race-based incidents emanating from the Occupy protests in lower Manhattan and Philadelphia, the People of Color Working Group has been formed.
Kanene Holder, an educator and performance artist, contacted the Amsterdam News after a story was published last week in the paper about racial tensions that had occurred in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
“The events in Philadelphia demonstrated that America is not colorblind, and that there is a dire need for a critical discussion on race in this country,” said Holder. “It may be mind-boggling to some that activists in a non violent movement whose mission is to fight for social justice would attack someone with the N-word and impose damaging stereotypes upon racial groups, but there is no reason to believe that this movement is immune to the social pathologies that plague the greater society.”
Holder said that the movement is a mirror of America, flawed but progressive, so there’s an opportunity to examine and discuss “discrimination, privilege, racism and hierarchy within the 99 percent.”
“Our efforts have always been about solidarity. To truly occupy a space of struggle, we all need to be on the same page,” Holder stated. “Hence, our goals are to advocate and heighten awareness of the beauty of our cultures to enrich the larger OWS [Occupy Wall Street] movement.
“We are not adversarial; we are excited and committed to being at the forefront of this movement by occupying privilege and supremacy with empathy. We believe this is an opportune time to broaden the discussion about social justice and economic issues.”
Among some Black activists and educators, and even the community, there’s the thought that economic injustice has always been a story for people of color. However, this movement only gained attention when it affected white people in the way it has affected Blacks and Hispanics for decades. The AmNews asked Holder why people of color are being ignored by the mainstream media.
“Unfortunately, we do not occupy a post-racial America, and hence many people are unwilling to truly examine how race and power often go hand in hand,” she said. “Hearts may be in the right place, but privilege is often implanted into one’s subconscious-it’s a reflex. Awareness is a muscle, and we all need to be personal trainers of this movement to ensure that we occupy a space of appreciation.”
Furthermore, Holder was quick to acknowledge that she didn’t have any negative stories to tell from her encounters with the protests.
“Let me note that my personal experience for two and a half weeks has been an extremely positive one,” said Holder. “I have been working on the OWS Press team, and they are aware and very upset about this movement being portrayed as mostly white and male. They yearn for healing, honesty and transparency. Although issues are arising, we [people of color] are working with the Non-Violence and Empathetic Communication Caucus to ensure the platitudes in the principals of solidarity are seen, heard and felt by all who Occupy Wall Street.”
In terms of goals, Holder said that the organization has the same goals as the Occupy protesters, that is, getting media attention so that issues of economic justice and accountability for major corporations can become a part of the national conversation. She just wants to make sure racial justice, which is tied to economic justice, is a part of the movement as well.
Specifically, “a reconstruction of the socioeconomic, political, health, educational, housing, immigration and criminal justice system,” said Holder.
“To reverse the vicious and systemic cycle of have-nots who feed the prisons, shelters and drug rehab facilities. To truly have firsthand experience of ‘liberty and justice for all.’ To ensure that our schools have books occupied by our [pre-colonial] history and heroes, painting an accurate portrayal of the detrimental effects of imperialism and colonialism, and being taught by trained and passionate teachers.
“We want our communities flooded with real opportunities, including community centers, cultural institutions and re-regulation for stabilized rents and affordable housing to stop gentrification.”
Other issues include police brutality, stop and frisk, the prison-industrial complex and deportation, Holder added. “Crisis leads to new legislation, and we are determined to have our voices heard so our political leadership is aware of our problems and solutions. We are, however, a proactive group, and we have working groups dedicated to direct actions in our communities to solve these aforementioned problems.”