‘Like our lives depended on it’

5 questions for organizer and racial justice advocate Erin Heaney

“If you read this newsletter, you know how committed I am to exploring how White people can show up in their spheres—from the most intimate to the proximate to the Political—in order to fight racism. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to get involved in racial justice organizing—no matter what your racial identity—but if you’re moving toward something collective, you can be assured you’re probably moving in the right direction. Reading all the books, listening to all the podcasts, watching all the movies, won’t change the material circumstances of life in this country or chip away at the “hierarchy of human value.” That requires collective action.

That’s why I love what Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is up to. They build, what they call, “people power” in multi-racial communities across the country. Today, they have 200 chapters taking on a range of deeply local projects, as well as a big, ambitious national strategy to fight authoritarianism. I am so grateful they have their eye on the prize. While it is critical that we all continue our inner work, our school work, the work at our places of work, we cannot lose sight of the big fights in front of us and what they mean for the future of this country (not to mention, the whole damn planet). I was excited to get the chance to interview SURJ Executive Director, Erin Heaney, and introduce her to you all…

Courtney Martin: Tell me a bit about your own racial formation. 

Erin Heaney: I grew up in a fairly progressive home – my dad was in the union, we voted for Democrats and I identified as a feminist at a young age. I am White and really didn’t begin understanding my own racial identity until I was in my twenties.

I had returned to my hometown of Buffalo and was organizing around environmental and economic justice. I saw over and over again the racism of White people undermine and blow up the coalitions we needed to keep together in order to win. I also was lucky enough to be called in by leaders of color in the movement who helped me realize that even with my progressive politics, I still had internalized white supremacy that was undermining my capacity to build strong relationships across lines of difference.

In response to these two learnings, I went on a much deeper journey into learning about racism, white supremacy and the connections between them and our economic system. I read a lot, attended workshops and connected with other people who were committed to anti-racism and it really transformed how I understood the world, myself and my lane in the movement.”

article by Courtney Martin, on The Examined Family Substack

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