Happy Dog Discussion on Racism
The violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend motivated Mr. Dan Moulthrop, President and CEO of the City Club of Cleveland to put together a program entitled "What to do About White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism" in just a couple of days. It took place on the evening of Wednesday, August 16th, at the "Happy Dog" on Detroit Avenue and featured Mr. Moulthrop moderating a panel consisting of Ms. Rian Brown, Co-Founder of "Black Lives Matter Cleveland" and "Black Lives Matter Kalamazoo"; Ms. Erica Merritt, Principal of the "Equius Group, LLC" which conducts sessions in which racism is examined; Ms. Anita Gray, Regional Director of the "Anti-Defamation League"; Rabbi Scott B. Roland, "Congregation Shaarey Tikvah"; and Mr. Matthew T. Wirks, Domestic Terrorism Supervisor at the FBI.
The program started at 7:30pm so, in anticipation of a sizable, we arrived an hour early at 6:30pm. We were amazed when we entered the "Happy Dog" to find it packed to full capacity. Some of the tables were even replaced by rows of chairs to fit more people in. Fortunately, for us we found a seat but if we had arrived five minutes later we would not have because from that point on it was standing room only. No doubt about it, this was quite a feat for a City Club program that had only been on its website for 48 hours.
While we waited an hour for the program to begin, we visited with Dr. Terry Gutgsell who was now retired but had practiced medicine for 45 years. He was as appalled as we were about what took place in Charlottesville and before our pre-program discussion was finished we covered such topics as the Affordable Care Act, unfortunate trends in U.S. immigration policy, and the emotional state of the U.S. at this time.
The Happy Dog was so compacted that it was tough to move around and talk to other people but we did manage to compliment Mr. Gil Kudrin on the "Be a Voice, Not an Echo, Silence=Death" t-shirt that he was wearing because we felt that it was appropriate for the occasion.
Once the discussion started, the ambiance of the room intensified very rapidly and the speakers and their questioners (during the Q and A) were often applauded, booed or cursed.
Overall, it seemed to be that the general belief expressed tonight was that white nationalists/supremacists are dangerous but even more dangerous are the unconscious biases that we have within ourselves. Thus, in order to be truly effective, the socially concerned must not be afraid to address their own biases and how they, themselves, or their ancestors may have benefited from the racism/bigotry as well as the and the historical biases of respected institutions that were created 100 years ago
For example, it was said that many of us know police officers who are great people but are part of the police departments that have exhibited patterns of racism. Thus, actions like consent decrees are necessary to move things forward.
What's more, organizations created by white people to deal with these problems are often not as effective as those created by people of color themselves. Therefore, it is necessary that people talk to each other and to get an understanding of exactly what the roots of the situation really are and act accordingly. Plus, an individuals need to ask themselves if they really want to address racism or just make themselves feel good by being involved in something meaningful.
Most importantly, it is necessary that we all come to the realization that racism and bigotry negatively affect us as a country, a culture and as individuals.
Perhaps one of the panelists summed it up best when she quoted Ms. Lila Watson, the Australian indigenous artist, who wrote:
"If you come here to help me you are wasting our time but you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC