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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

What has Changed?

By Andy Reichart, Assistant Director, Prairie Independent Living Resource Center (PILR)

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the National Council on Independent Living Annual Conference in Washington D.C. As I was flying out I was thinking… I should write an article for one of our next newsletters!

In my mind I was thinking I could tell everyone about the wonderful experience I had gathering with my peers from across the country. I was finally meeting some of the people I have only talked to on the phone.

I would be able to share my personal account about how great it was for all of us to have this shared experience as we all marched to the Capitol and participated in a Disability Rights Rally right on the front lawn of the Capitol.

I could provide all the details about how individuals with disabilities from every region of the country were able to participate in the legislative process by meeting with their own elected officials and as a united front share our disability issues and concerns.

Yeah, it was all of that and so much more!

Well, the story doesn’t end there. On the flight home, I kept having the same thoughts running around in my head. Once I got back at work, I continued to be haunted by a panel discussion that took place during the conference opening session.

To make a long story short, every organization, large or small, has issues that from time to time require all of us to confront issues on an organizational level. With that said, the topic of this panel discussion was about issues as they relate to race, its impact organizationally, its impact on participation and ultimately its effect on membership.

The panel discussion was organized and very well done. Personally, what I can tell you is that the mood of the room was tense and you could feel the emotion of those who spoke. I was surprised by my physiological response; my heart rate increased and I was very uncomfortable. I never really considered myself racist. Yet everything in my world has always been white. The family I was born into, the town I grew up in, the church I went to, the schools I attended, even my friends were white growing up. It wasn’t until college that I was able to meet and work with individuals of color.

As I listened to the panel speak and interact with the audience, I remember thinking, I haven’t done anything! Wait a minute…I haven’t done anything! I really don’t know anything about the subject of race. One of the panel members challenged the audience to read a book called: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson.

It was this challenge that I had been struggling with since my return to Kansas. As a white man who will be 55 years of age this year, I found it hard to believe that I was not aware. It has been very disorienting for me to get this far in life and know so little on the subject of race. I thought I was just going to a conference. I would go, come home, go back to work and carry on as usual. Of course, I will always have the stories I shared at the beginning of the article, but something happened at the panel discussion that changed me.

What has Changed? Well, I bought the book and I have finished reading it. I am still processing the definitions and impact of white fragility. I’m trying to wrap my mind around the concepts and create a new framework from which to navigate my own thoughts and bias. I don’t know how much I can change; all I know is that I want to try.

I too would like to personally extend this book reading challenge to our entire PILR staff, our consumers and our community partners. I think our humanity depends on our willingness to understand our roles individually, societally and as a member of the human race. Intellectually, we are charged; as is justice, to not only seek but to find the truth. It is critical to recognize truth when it is evident in order to repair the institutional and psychological barriers that prevent us from achieving the ultimate goal of racial peace. I have always judged our humanity on two factors; are we still killing each other and are there people on our planet who are still starving? Without engaging in constructive and positive racial conversations we continue to participate in the status quo. As a result, if we are not willing to talk to each other about race nothing will ever change.

My next book: How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

“Becoming conscious of racism does not mean you are a racist.” 
― Auliq Ice

2019 March to the Capitol - People holding signs and marching toward the US Capitol Building
2019 March to the Capitol – People holding signs and marching toward the US Capitol Building

Comments

  1. Denise Myler says

    Andy, thank you for your article. I have been thinking about the racial issues we face in Eastern Idaho but have never really dug into the total concept of Eastern Idaho having a racial issues.

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