February 27, 2021

Mia O.

Woman wearing a #ENOUGH shirt and a mask.

Mia O.

Bloomington, MN, USA

Why I joined ARCC?

I grew up with parents and grandparents who I would consider “anti-racist” for their time, and their lessons have been carried on by me. As I grew older I learned that some of their lessons were incorrect, and I continue to learn. For example, I grew up being told that we need to be “color blind”. That was an attempt to say that we should not discriminate based on race. However, we obviously do see color and I have since learned that it is better to “see” color and embrace our differences. I have heard many stories of racism from my grandparents, as my grandfather played with a band and tap danced with members/friends who were black. However, the most horrific story goes further back, and is one my grandma told us that continues to haunt me. It is about the Duluth Lynchings that happened when she was 10 years old. She lived in Herbster, Wisconsin, and on the day of the lynchings her uncles came to their home on a boat from Duluth and immediately fell to the ground sobbing. They had witnessed the lynchings. They wailed that they had tried to stop it, but there was no way to stop the mob. This trauma was especially horrific when they later discovered that the reason for the lynchings was based on a complete lie started by a Finnish teenager who did not want to get in trouble from her dad for staying out late, and made up a story about black carnival workers having raped her. My grandma’s family came to the United States from Finland, and were proud to be from a “progressive” country. They were horrified that “one of their own” had been the catalyst that ended in the public hanging of innocent young men. This may have been what led my grandma, my mom, and now me to always speak out when we see racism. We do not tolerate untruths that denigrate a race of people, or rationalize unjust treatment. We always try to put ourselves in other people’s shoes in order to truly understand. For example, imagine if all Finnish people were considered liars because of this teenager? As for my dad, having been adopted from an orphanage when his parents died, he grew up to be extremely grateful in his understanding as to how easily things could have gone a different way for him. Not all children were adopted – including his brothers, one of whom who had health issues. Not all who were adopted ended up in happy circumstances – including one of his 2 sisters, who was adopted into “servitude”. My dad was dedicated to “paying it forward”, and caring about kids who did not have the same luck that he happened to have by being born healthy. Helping children receive an outlet for good health became his issue. (He became the Director of Health and Physical Education for the MN Department of Education, and created adapted PE classes). He knew that good health is directly tied to race and poverty, as not everyone has equal access to affordable healthcare, or lives in a healthy environment. He believed everyone should live near a park and a community center, and ended up taking action by being on the Minneapolis Park Board. Both parents were highly active in politics, and worked in every capacity to help elect progressive candidates. I have a button of my mom’s that says JESSE L. JACKSON for PRESIDENT with his photo, as my parents were ready for a black president long before most. So, I have to admit that I have always considered myself to be a “non-racist”. I door knocked for Barack Obama to be president, after all. I have not one, but two BLM signs – one to take with me in my car in case it is needed. I have marched with BLM, even when going alone. I adore every single student I work with as a substitute teacher, and embrace their differences. I bring books to read that depict people of color. My adult bi-racial niece confides in me about the micro-aggressions she has experienced growing up, and the “otherness” she has felt being with either her black relatives or her white relatives. I had a real awakening when that included my family relentlessly encouraging her to swim with her cousins when she didn’t want to get her hair wet. Recently, through taking workshops on anti-racism that I personally did not feel applied to me, I have learned that everyone who is white and privileged is racist in some way. This has been, admittedly, tough for me to accept. I am someone who “loves” everyone! I work to help elect non-racists as legislators! But even Progressive Democrats are not free and clear of racism. I am uncomfortable learning this about myself. I am now ready to be uncomfortable.