Letter to the Editor

Council hiding behind white privilege


At the Oct. 20 City Council meeting, the Washington for Justice grassroots organization proposed an “IDEA Committee” (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accountability) as a citizen’s advisory group to review city ordinances and practices and give advice to the council with regard to racial justice issues.

The proposal went nowhere. It wasn’t due to lack of support among some of the council members, but the rejection of such a committee is a very concerning development for the town of Washington indeed.

The ability to ignore racial justice in our community is the essence of white privilege isn’t it?

One can only imagine that people of color in our town feel further marginalized now because the council’s message seems to be, “this isn’t important, and it isn’t our concern.”

Working toward racial justice and inclusion requires deliberate effort, love and commitment from white people, but it appears the council is not willing to do this. Apparently, they are not willing to engage in review, self-reflection and commit to take action to ensure that our community is a safe and inclusive place for people of color.

But congratulations to the town of Fairfield. As reported on Nov. 17 in the Southeast Iowa Union, “The city of Fairfield has created a committee to address diversity issues in the community. The committee … was inaugurated earlier this year by Fairfield Mayor Connie Boyer. The committee has met three times …”

They seem well on their way to facing and confronting the systemic racism that exists in their town. Kudos for their courage.

And, congratulations to the other towns in Iowa that have taken similar action. Perry, Storm Lake, Iowa City, Ames, Ottumwa and many others have taken proactive steps to address racial justice issues in their communities.

But not Washington.

And why wasn’t there unanimous support for such a proposal? This was an easy proposal. What are they afraid of? Why will they not take this step to review city ordinances and practices to determine where systemic racism exists?

There wasn’t even a public vote to go on record so those opposed could hide behind their white privileged anonymity. They are pretending racism doesn’t exist in order to avoid the discomfort that comes when you realize you have been complicit in the racist structure all along.

Washington for Justice will carry on the work of providing educational opportunities for the community and advocacy for people of color and other diverse groups. In fact, 2021 will be an important year in moving Washington forward toward greater racial justice as many events are now being planned. But only the City Council can review its own practices and policies and correct them.

We thought that perhaps the council would be courageous and engage in self-reflection and education toward becoming anti-racist. But it appears our hopes were unfounded.

As towns across Iowa and the country are coming to terms with racial disparities and systemic racism, Washington has self-imposed denial and ignorance to its own problems. Our community will suffer for it.

Dan Henderson