Racial & Restorative Justice Requires Discomfort

MACOMB, ILLINOIS – Nearly two months after a group of white business owners publicly displayed and/or distributed signs which were condemned by the black community and allies as racist, we appreciate that Mayor Mike Inman has officially spoken on the issue in a recent op-ed to the Voice.

Well, almost.

It would be hard for anyone who has not been closely following the events in Macomb surrounding the signs to understand the context of the Mayor’s letter or what may have caused this sudden concern for “race relations and inclusivity”, as he writes. The mayor calls for “healing,” “dialogue,” and “making amends.” An uninformed reader might ask, “about what?”

Nowhere in the article does he mention the direct cause the current tensions: namely, these business owners publicly shaming one of the most prominent black figures in Macomb.

The vagueness of the letter tries to soften some hard truths. There hasn’t been an organic “coming together of individuals” – there have been selective conversations. It’s important to build an inclusive community, but “all individuals” were not targeted by the signs – a black man was. Making amends behind closed doors “without shame or blame” is a weak substitute for addressing a racial injustice that took place very publicly.

Many black people in Macomb have already made their voices heard as individuals and through allied organizations. They shouldn’t be expected to sit through a session and explain to these wealthy white people why the signs were racist. Neither should we pretend racist “feelings and beliefs” have equal legitimacy to the real trauma and fears expressed by the black community.

While it’s a start to provide a safe, non-challenging space to help white people learn the basics of how not to be racist, diversity training isn’t enough. Restorative justice for harm done to our black community, even if the harm was inflicted unintentionally, is needed. That means strengthening public institutions in our community, like the Equal Opportunity and Fair Housing Commission, that are tasked with addressing issues of racism and discrimination and providing concrete solutions.

We live in a time of explicit and violent racism from the Presidency on down. There can be no “tolerable” level of racism in a healthy, vibrant community. There is explicit racism, there is anti-racism, and what is in between is the “tolerable” racism which white people can choose to ignore. That space is white privilege.

To act publicly in a racist manner and then have one’s white elected officials offer private, gentle, protected, optional penance as ‘coming together’—with no accountability or acknowledgement of harm done—epitomizes white privilege.

Restorative justice would be the Mayor explicitly condemning the signs as racist, and those business owners issuing a public apology for harm done, then taking explicit, transparent actions to hire, employ, and welcome black people as employees, customers, and clientele.

Signed,
The Democratic Women of McDonough County

The Democratic Women of McDonough County is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization focusing on increasing the participation of women in all levels of politics.