Events in Juneau, some as recent as this summer, have reminded us that racism is alive and well in our capital city. Treating each other with disrespect based on how we look or who our ancestors were deprives all of us of a chance to learn what others have to make our community better and prevents Juneau from reaching its full potential.
Racism prevents each of us from truly knowing our neighbors and understanding what each of us has to offer. Each of us can make a positive contribution, but the walls of racism and prejudice prevent us from sharing our talents and treasures with each other. In order to achieve our full potential as a community, we must all treat each other with dignity, respect and positive regard.
But how do we end the scourge of racism? How do we root out this evil that is too often passed down from generation to generation and is too commonly enshrined in our institutions and organizations?
The first step is to acknowledge that it exists. The second step is to listen and seek common understanding.
If we truly want to understand each other and break down the walls that divide us, we must take a step back and try to feel what it’s like to be in our neighbor’s shoes. It’s too easy to disagree with someone without first trying to understand that person’s point of view. It’s far easier to dig our heels in and cling to our long-held beliefs when we are challenged by someone else’s opinion.
Instead of seeking out disagreement, let’s work as a community to find common understanding.
There are too many divisions in our community.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If we all can take a little time to listen to each other and practice empathy, we can discover what unites us. All of us have had hardships in our lives. If we can only take those difficult experiences and use them to empathize with others, we will see that there is more that we have in common than what divides us.
It will not be painless, but we need to have community conversations about racism. Whether it’s graffiti on Back Loop Road or a poorly-themed party, recent events have reminded us of our own history of discrimination in Alaska. We must acknowledge that despite the work of Elizabeth Peratrovich and the modern civil rights movement, racism continues to exist in our capital city. And if we can take a step back and try to understand what it might feel like when our neighbor bears the brunt of racism or discrimination, and listen to each other in genuine dialogue, then maybe, even if just slowly, hearts and minds will change across our community.
It will take sustained effort to implement and institutionalize our commitment to end racism, but by working together we can join hearts and minds to make Juneau a capital city where all are truly equal and all viewpoints are considered with genuine respect.
Change is possible. And it can start now.
• Empire Readers’ Council editorials are written by members Joe Geldhof, Tom Rutecki, Amy Skilbred, Alex Wertheimer and Marc Wheeler. Director of Audience Abby Lowell serves as a moderator.