“Open Letter to my fellow Democratic Committee Members in Pennsylvania’s 37th State Senatorial District” was posted to my campaign Facebook page on Jan. 28, 2019 along with this article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Fellow Committee Members,
I know many of us are hurting after yesterday’s nominating convention, even those who supported the winning candidate. While some of us want party leaders to redress our grievances, and others want to temper discord in the pursuit of party loyalty, we must collectively reckon with the worst of what we did yesterday; we scared a candidate out of running because of her race and gender.
Nothing can excuse what we did to Ms. Benson. No amount of good work on our resumes, allegiance to progressive campaigns, or prior votes for non-white politicians justifies the pain we’ve caused and the damage we’ve done.
If you think a “good question” to ask a candidate is how will she win as a black woman, and/or if you think Ms. Benson dropping out of the race was an acceptable result of people asking that question, then I respectfully thank you for your past service and ask you to resign your committee membership. Make room for someone else. There are people wishing to join our committee who understand that fighting racism and sexism isn’t a goal for future “safer” elections—it is the point of the present.
INTENTION NEVER TRUMPS CONFIDENCE
No matter how justified and well-intentioned we may consider ourselves to be, if our actions make a person feel unwelcomed and unsupported then that is not okay. And when confronted with this reality, it is not acceptable to erase Ms. Benson’s experience by attempting to justify our actions.
We cannot be a party that allows this. We must be a party that seeks to know and understand our own personal and institutional flaws. We must all work to eradicate racism and not because we need non-white people to vote for us, or because it makes people of color uncomfortable, or even because it makes many white people uncomfortable; we must do better because it is the only way to achieve our goals of equality and opportunity for all.
There is not one among us who is solely responsible, but neither are any of us innocent. That’s why it’s our responsibility to hold ourselves accountable, and to hold each other accountable.
Are you aware of your own biases? Your own privileges? We all have them. When they are presented to you, as they were yesterday, do you sit with the discomfort and seek to understand it? Or do you immediately become defensive?
If you were a person who asked Ms. Benson how she thought she could win in her own district as a black woman
if you are someone who thought of this question but never said it out loud
if you are someone who hears it now and considers it valid
ask yourself why you believe this question is valid? What would you learn by asking it? The answer was clear in her candidacy. She would not have run if she didn’t think she could earn votes.
Even if we had the powers to divine that Ms. Benson’s race and gender would make it difficult for her to win, then I think the solution is clear; campaign harder, volunteer more, and dig deeper in conversations with our neighbors throughout the district. But as it is now, we’ll never know. We never gave ourselves that chance because we showed a highly qualified, proven leader that we aren’t ready to support her.
“Our lived experiences shape us, how we interact with the world, and how we live in the world. And our experiences are valid. Because we do not experience the world with only part of ourselves, we cannot leave our racial identity at the door. And so, if a person of color says that something is about race, it is—because regardless of the details, regardless of whether or not you can connect the dots from the outside, their racial identity is a part of them and it is interacting with the situation…We are all products of a racialized society, and it affects everything we bring to our interactions.” – Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race