Danette Mitchell: Is Solano County ready for a serious race discussion?Vallejo Times-Herald, by Danette Mitchell, June 25, 2021
Last week’s lengthy Solano County Board of Supervisors discussion about a specific Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training became heated, sending a message that they are not ready for topics that deal with the ugly underbelly of America.
While discussing racism is an uncomfortable topic, we can’t talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion and not address race. Supervisor Erin Hannigan and human resource leadership presented a proposal to have Jei Africa, director of Marin County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, conduct a series of equity training workshops to address race, racism, racialization, White privilege, and implicit bias.
Hannigan attended the training. She believes the education would provide the board with foundational knowledge and an understanding of the terminology from a historical perspective, adding that the topics are uncomfortable. The training would also include the history of slavery, redlining, Jim Crow, and immigration, concluding with becoming an anti-racist/multicultural organization.
Hannigan also stated that the training would help with discussions around policies, equity, and procedures because they would all speak from the same playbook. Hannigan added that city employees should see the board taking the lead on the equity training.
Supervisor Monica Brown feels the training for board members should be voluntary. She also feels the training should be embedded with other training like sexual harassment and ethics. I believe her suggestion would minimize the topics’ seriousness and shorten the training, potentially reducing the effectiveness and impact. We are dealing with a deeply rooted system that legislated and enacted inequalities that persist today. The training should be mandatory for board members.
Supervisor Mitch Mashburn supports the equity training. However, he feels the LGBTQ community and all other ethnic groups, including gender, should be discussed as well. If you support the population, specifically Black people, that has been the most marginalized, others benefit. Race will intersect with the LGBTQ community, Latinos and Asians, but not the opposite. The Black community has many examples of this, like affirmative action, which primarily benefited White women, and the Immigration Act, which pushed Black people, as a collective group, further down the economic and opportunity ladder.
Supervisor Jim Spering stated he is fully committed to equity. He also said he didn’t want one person’s perspective on history and didn’t harbor White guilt, because he has worked hard. Nonetheless, he is still the beneficiary of a system of privilege. Also, the effects of slavery in America are in our DNA, manifesting in behaviors and attitudes.
No doubt, varied emotions often surface when discussing race-related topics. Supervisor Board Chairman John Vasquez was triggered when Hannigan mentioned she lived a life of White privilege, to which he responded, “So you are going to come in and save my life?” He is undecided about the training and would like to wait on responses to the employee survey before committing. His stance appeared to be the consensus of the rest of the board.
Meanwhile, Hannigan commented, “Maybe this is not the right board for equity for this county.” She and Vasquez serve on the Ad Hoc Equity Board Subcommittee formed in 2020 to address employee equity.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are a 450-year-old set of problems that won’t be solved overnight. We are dealing with generations of ingrained behaviors, attitudes, and fears.
Nonetheless, employers want to hear the lyrics of “We Shall Overcome” — not “Strange Fruit,” describing the lynching of Black people.