At the May 20th Oak Park Village Board meeting, two competing documents arrived for the board’s approval. The Community Relations Commission provided an updated Oak Park Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Statement at the request of the board. And three board members — Trustees Deno Andrews, Simone Boutet, and Dan Moroney — shared their own updated draft. In one of the trustees’ changes, they omitted the sentence, “We work to break down systems of oppression and achieve a society where race no longer determines one’s outcomes, and where everyone has what they need to thrive.”
Trustee Deno Andrews indicated that constituents raised concerns with some of this language, which led the trustees to omit it. If some Oak Park residents don’t know the meaning of this language, I’d like to share some quick definitions. “Systems of oppression” are discriminatory structures built into the fabric of our society. And achieving “a society where race no longer determines one’s outcomes” is a key part of the definition of racial equity. This does not mean that the goal is for all people to have equal outcomes, but simply that race should not be a contributing factor toward those outcomes.
I fear that people understand the meaning of these phrases, but disagree that Oak Park as a village creates and uphold systems of oppression. I fear that they don’t agree that we should strive for outcomes that are not dictated by race. And I fear that they don’t see the key role that white village residents play in both of these issues.
Some of our village’s white residents have started to take the most tentative steps into a conversation on racial equity with our neighbors of color. But there are still many of us who are unwilling to admit that we have a problem. The recent middle school survey indicated that many teachers blame students and parents of color for the students’ lack of engagement in school, rather than asking how they can better serve the students. Many of the comments in response to that article indicated that other village residents also blame the students and their parents. Recently, we have invited the building of one luxury apartment building after another, without any thought to how those luxury apartments will tilt our demographics and services toward wealthy, young, white residents. And Black residents are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than white residents. All of these facts demonstrate that we are a long way from racial equity, and have a lot of work to do to break down the systems of oppression we have created.
Nearly 50 years ago, our Village Board voted 5-2 in favor of a progressive vision statement that pushed the envelope on fair housing beyond what many village residents would have supported. Now, it is time for our new Village Board to do the same. We must acknowledge that Oak Park is part of the systems of oppression that hold back people of color and deny all of us true relationship and community with one another. It is only by acknowledging this truth that we can begin to undo it.
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