On April 27, nonprofit leaders and students gathered for a workshop and conversation about the History of Race, Criminalization, and Anti-Blackness in Orange County with educator and community organizer Mau Trejo (they/them), OC Rapid Response Network (OCRRN), Students Deserve, as part of the OC Grantmakers Beyond Equity learning series.

Mau’s presence is incredibly welcoming, and their example of working alongside historically oppressed communities and to liberate spaces through solidarity is evident and inspiring, but it isn’t easy to sit in a workshop like Mau’s. Why? Because whether you are knowledgeable about the National and county-level history of enslavement and anti-Black policies that have led to present day inequities, or whether the examples of racism and oppression are new to you, if you are listening, you are going to feel uncomfortable. If you are listeningreflecting on the level of hate and inhumanity in our distant as well as quite recent history is unsettling to say the least. As those involved in anti-hate and anti-discrimination work know, sitting in that discomfort is a critical part of doing the work.

The history of race, criminalization, and anti-Blackness presented covered examples of how race has been created and codified in laws and systems to oppress Black people since the late 1400s. From the colonial Racial Codes that created a legal caste and class system based on race in the 1600s, to the Slave Codes of the pre-Civil-War era, to Black Codes of the post-Reconstruction period, to Orange County’s recent history of Sundown towns of the early to mid-1900s, redlining and anti-Black policies in housing (e.g. Mulkey v. Reitman), and racially inequitable systems and outcomes today, race has been weaponized.

In present day Orange County, it is evident that histories of exclusion and racist systems continue to have a negative impact on our Black communities. Two and a half percent of Orange County’s population are Black, while a disproportionate 6% of unsheltered houseless people, and 11% of sheltered houseless people are also Black. Similarly, according to the Million Dollar Hoods Report, while 1.5% of the County population (2010-2018) was Black, a disproportionate 6.7% of jail bookings were Black people. The statistics of under-resourcing and over-policing go on.

Acknowledgement of this history and this present reality is part of the work to be Pro-Black in the pursuit of racial justice and liberation, and another part of the work is to proactively build multi-racial solidarity and community. At the workshop, attendees were invited to build community and discuss critical questions such as:

  • What is your definition of racial justice?
  • What does multi-racial solidarity look like to your organization?
  • What are your personal commitments to Black liberation?
  • How can you and your organization build relationships with Black people in Orange County?
  • What does it mean to be pro-Black in Orange County?

In talking to Mau after the workshop, they shared their definition of racial justice, which resonated with many other definitions shared in the room. They said, “For me, racial justice is a vision of transforming our society so that Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other communities of color are provided with the dignity, power, resources, and self-determination to fully thrive within our society”.

Furthermore, they shared, being pro-Black means to acknowledge, “the years and years of anti-black policies that have plagued Orange County – but making ways for reparations through re-allocation of resources to support Black community members, Black culture, and to support initiatives that can promote Black power and self-determination in our cities.”

These questions are critical for all of us in Orange County to consider and act on as we work to create a more equitable, just, and free community.

Here are some Black-led organizations to support and build with

  • Black Alliance for Just Immigration         
  • Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP)                 
  • BLM – Los Angeles & BLM Grassroots     
  • Cameroon Advocacy Network   
  • Haitian Bridge Alliance                  
  • Orange County Justice Initiative
  • Peoples Coalition OC     

Join us as we host Tavleen Kaur at the next Beyond Equity Learning session, “Get out of my county!” Deconstructing Media Stereotypes, Reconstructing New Visions​” on May 25 from 8:30 to 10:30 am at the Lawrence de Graaf Center for Oral and Public History, Cal State Fullerton.

Taryn Palumbo is the Executive Director of Orange County Grantmakers. OCG is the regional philanthropic organization for Orange County.

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