Roc Rochon, Rachael Reichenbach, and Taylor Biro Originally Published on October 23rd, 2020 in the Tallahassee Democrat
It’s difficult for us to understand the city’s intentions behind “Tallahassee All Together — A Race Relations Summit.” On the surface, the effort made to produce this event indicates a willingness to have a meaningful, community-wide conversation about race. However, to those familiar with anti-racism culture and practice, the city has taken a meek, political approach to address this critically important topic.
By failing first to pursue reckoning — an acknowledgement of and accountability for past harm and a concerted effort towards healing the present manifestations of that harm — the city has designed a summit that will undoubtedly fail to create essential and transformative change. Before we can all come together “in the spirit of collaboration and unity,” we must first acknowledge the burden of inequities that maintain the racial status quo.
There has been far too much harm, violence, terrorism and pain in our country for a race relations conversation to begin by focusing on unity and collaboration across sectors like local government and law enforcement — the original institutions of domestic terror. Before unity, there must be reckoning.
To skip accountability and healing in favor of unity is an approach that centers white comfort and assumes a neutral stance. To be clear: Race relations in our community are rooted in a centuries-old history of anti-Blackness and white dominance. To believe there is any hope for meaningful dialogue about race relations without explicitly naming this reality is a belief that maintains and perpetuates white dominance.
This is not a matter of relating to one another. This is not a matter of perception. The city’s approach denies and deflects the reality that structural and systemic racism are active processes. The event evokes a false sense of unity through centering “all” as if “we” are all operating from the same ideological approach and analysis to structural oppression. “We” are not.
Only four of 21 presenters explicitly mention racism in the description of their workshop. The word “anti-racism” appears only twice on the event website, and only in the biographies of Tim Wise and Jane Elliot — true anti-racism leaders and elders. The event makes no mention of intersectionality and fails to acknowledge that LGBTQ+ people of color are disproportionately oppressed, harmed and murdered.
Noticeably absent from the line-up of speakers are local anti-racist community organizations such as Dream Defenders and Tallahassee Community Action Committee. In fact, the city has recently decided to include members of these community groups — not to highlight their anti-racist analysis, but as a way to punish them for engaging in anti-racist civil disobedience.
In September, community members and grassroots organizers gathered at our Capitol to protest the grand jury’s decision not to charge the police officers responsible for the murders of three Black community members. These peaceful protesters sat on a sidewalk as they were met with heavily-armed police officers who surrounded, terrorized and arrested them.
Once arrested, they were instructed that their release from jail was contingent on their agreeing to no longer assemble publicly over racial injustice. The city further silenced those who protested racism by issuing warrants to arrest additional protestors in the middle of the night following the initial arrest of 15 protestors at the Capitol.
Now State Attorney Jack Campbell and the city of Tallahassee have doubled down on their gaslighting of the “Tally 19,” offering diversion program agreements that require protestors to attend “Tallahassee All Together,” specifically a session on how to “safely and lawfully protest,” or continue facing criminal charges.
This is a blatant intimidation measure to ensure people who are impacted by racism are “properly” protesting racism in a way that centers white comfort and respectability politics. Furthermore the villainization of peaceful protesters is a tactic we would expect from the commander in tweet, not from our local officials.
“Tallahassee All Together” reads as yet another performative effort rooted in historical amnesia that fails to explicitly acknowledge that anti-Blackness is at the root of what ails us. Ibram X. Kendi, FAMU alumnus and author of “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” explains that in the year 2020, it is no longer enough to be not racist. We are either behaving in a racist way (a way that upholds white dominance) or in an anti-racist way (a way that seeks to fundamentally shift the racial status quo).
With Kendi’s analysis in mind, if this event is not explicitly anti-racist, then what is its intention?
Roc Rochon is the founder of Rooted Resistance and doctoral candidate in the Department of Sports Management at Florida State University. Rachael Reichenbach is a principal consultant at Resist Reimagine. Taylor Biro is a community activist and social worker.