These People Know Nothing Of Racism

Downtown, Tacoma
May 2, 2018
in Parish Stories

Philando Castile was from the Rondo neighborhood where this highway cut straight through it.

Marshall McLuhan often remarked that fish know nothing of water. They are too immersed in their environment to get the appropriate distance. They have no alternative context to compare it with. What does this mean for white people who were born into environments that their forefathers created to separate them from real proximity to voices of uncomfortable difference? Could it be said, “These people know nothing of racism. It is the water they swim in?”

“Environments are invisible” McLuhan wrote. It’s not that you can’t see them… I mean, I’m sure it was obvious to the people living in Philando Castile’s neighborhood during the construction of the pictured highway, that it might have some catastrophic effects on the collective efficacy of their community. But many of us would drive across totally oblivious because we have developed an entire cultural infrastructure that keeps us separated from the real lives and problems of people who are different from us. In this situation, sincere people can even advocate against racism, while carrying out daily activities that build upon and support structures of oppression.

As a Community Catalyst, three related articles came out this week that left me deeply reflective, and all the more convinced that I must continue to focus my efforts on getting out of the water I swim in, and be very intentional about learning and listening to those who are different than me. It left me further convinced about making sure the stakeholders, the people who are most affected by all our planning and building of these invisible environments, are the ones we are listening to most. I leave you with a quote from each of these three articles, along with the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr and Clarence Jordan.

“[People] often hate each other because they fear each other, and they fear each other because they don’t know each other. They don’t know each other because they can’t communicate with each other, and they can’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.” -Martin Luther King Jr

“If the barriers that divide [people], and cause wars, race conflict, economic competition, class struggles, labor disputes are ever to be broken down, they must be broken down in small groups of people living side by side, who plan consciously and deliberately to find a way wherein they all contribute to the kingdom according to their respective abilities.” -Clarence Jordan


In theory, public space is the cornerstone of democracy. It’s where our social contract protects us all equally, and where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can join together — to celebrate victories or protest injustices — without fear that they will be profiled or harmed. In practice, though, throughout the United States, public space is where policing can be as comforting for some as it is dangerous for others. It is where we as a society seem to decide whose lives matter.

Public space is where five young black men and five police officers were fatally shot last week…  From redliningblockbusting, and gentrification to food deserts and racial disparities in law enforcement, the planning decisions, policies, and practices that have shaped today’s cities were not designed to benefit everyone equally.


“The current movement for black lives is a perfect backdrop for a conversation on reimagined cities that needs to move from the halls of think tanks and municipal development offices to the streets and neighborhoods where all manner of black people dwell.

Imagine dialogues on neighborhood development and urban design occurring among protest participants. Imagine planned public talks hosted on neighbors’ stoops or in the foyers of housing projects. Imagine democratized approaches to urban planning that begins with the people,not the corporate class. Imagine the embedding of urban planners within movement collectives combatting anti-black racism and state sanctioned violence from Ferguson to Flatbush. That type of work is characteristic of the critical first steps needed to inform the creation of the “just” city.”


The construction of I-94 shattered this tight-knit community, displaced thousands of African Americans into a racially segregated city and a discriminatory housing market, and erased a now-legendary neighborhood. While the construction of I-94 radically changed the landscape of the neighborhood, the community of Rondo still exists and its persistence and growth are celebrated through events like Rondo Days and the Jazz Festival.