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« Becoming an Antiracist & Anti-oppressive Village | Main | New logo, new name, same Co-op! »
Thursday
May122016

Claiming an Antiracist Identity: Why and How?

Aliisa Lahti

Aliisa Lahti

PFC Owner, former board director

 

If you read the Coop Scoop regularly, come to the Annual Meeting, or if you’ve ever read the words printed on the wall above the lunch counter, then you know about our Ends. The Ends statement and the Sub-Ends convey the impact the People’s Food Co-op strives to have on the world. We also sometimes call it Chris Dilley’s job description.

ENDS STATEMENT:
The People’s Food Co-op of Kalamazoo exists to create access for all to food that is healthy for people, land and the economy. 
 
SUB ENDS: 
People – Because of PFC:
  • We are a thriving antiracist/anti-oppressive cooperative village.
  • We are a food sovereign community. 
Land – Because of PFC:
  • There is a healthier ecological system.
Economy – Because of PFC:
  • Cooperative business exists in our community.
  • Local jobs exist in our community.
  • Local money stays in our local economy.
Back in 2008, when I was on the board of PFC, we got together for our annual retreat. With the help of our board consultant, Thane, and after much discussion, word-smithing, and snack consuming, we came up with the Ends statement almost as it reads above. (We added the words “for all” last year). When it was complete, we stood back to read it and found it to be clear and inspiring.
 
A year later we decided it would be good to write Sub-Ends to go along with our Ends. Sub-Ends are intended to give some additional detail to the Ends statement we already had and were satisfied with. We wanted to flesh it out a bit, to explain what we meant.
 
It was a Friday night. We were upstairs in the loft at Fire (Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative) on Portage Road. Again, there were snacks and drinks.  Are you noticing a theme here?
 
We broke into three groups based on our interest and passion, each to work on one of the pieces: People, Land, Economy. At that time, I had just recently attended the 2.5 day Understanding and Analyzing Systemic Racism hosted by ERACCE (Eliminating Racism & Creating/Celebrating Equity) for the first time and I was pretty fired up about the “people” piece. I wanted PFC to feel as welcoming to people of all races as it did to me.  
 
As a small group, we had feelings about what we wanted to convey, and what we came up with was this:

“Bridges exist between our multiple diverse communities.”
 
I was just beginning to wrap my mind around institutional racism and its impacts. I was full of passion and seriously lacking in practice and language to express it. I was not yet prepared to claim the identity of Antiracist. And our small group was definitely not about to use the term “antiracist” in policy!
 
Talk of race and racism was popping up here and there around the Co-op at that time. Expansion planning was well underway and there was some healthy, although nerve wracking, discussion taking place around gentrification and how to avoid adding to it.  We were well aware that the racial makeup of our staff was overwhelmingly white, and had historically been mostly white. We knew we wanted to do something about it, and this Sub-End was our attempt at that time to take a step forward. 
 
Looking back, it’s as though this Sub-End was a younger, sort of cute version of the one that now stands in its place.  In 2015, the current board of directors wrote the following new Sub-End, which replaced the old one:

“We are a thriving antiracist/anti-oppressive cooperative village.”
 
This statement is powerful.  We didn’t feel ready to say it before.  Now we are ready, and it is significant that as an organization, we know what we mean when we say it.
 
Today, we find the Co-op with a more racially diverse board and staff than we had in the past.  We also have formed an Antiracist Transformation Team, and we have more shared language and understanding of systemic racism within the whole organization.  This means that when racism surfaces, as it does everywhere, folks have ways to talk about it, and together we can work to find ways to interrupt it.
 
Where we find ourselves today is no accident.  The work of antiracism and anti-oppression has been steadily growing within the People’s Food Co-op culture for years.  And yet, there’s a lot of work still to do, and we have a lot yet to learn.  Aiming toward these Ends can help us keep moving in a good direction.

 

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