As an organization, we prioritize bringing race, oppression, and inequity to our internal conversations – whether we’re talking about health disparities or eliminating coercion from contraceptive counseling or the ways our own staff and partners have experienced racism, homophobia, religious discrimination, and other forms of oppression.
We are proud to work with community partners who work directly to challenge oppression in all its forms. We condemn the overt promotion of racism and anti-Semitism, and the willingness of many to offer silent, tacit approval to those voices.
Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” We take that admonition to heart. At this moment in particular, we want to distance our work from silence and shine light on those leading the way to challenge hate.
SHIFT NC stands strongly in solidarity with communities and organizations opposing all forms of inequity and exclusion based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We believe that speaking out against oppression is an essential step toward making real change. We also know that oppression, inequity, and exclusion impact us, and they impact the young people we serve.
Bearing Witness to Our Common History
Racism, bias, and bigotry have no place in a just and healthy society. Unfortunately, there is a long history of racism and violation in our field and we see the ongoing impact when we do our work.
A few years ago, SHIFT NC conducted a door-to-door community survey about local views on teen pregnancy prevention. As our staff interviewed an older woman – an older white woman – she explained that teen pregnancy was only a problem among black girls. When our staff provided her with data proving that, in fact, the community had more white teen pregnancies, the response was, “oh, but the fathers are all black.” Again, most of the fathers were white. This story is not unique.
Modern gynecology itself was built from experiments on enslaved women. Even today, statues honor the perpetrator of those experiments rather than his enslaved victims, Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy and many more women whose names are lost in time. Devastating experiments on Puerto Rican women and African-American men fueled early understanding of contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections. More recently – within many of our lifetimes – North Carolina’s eugenics program was considered a justifiable public health strategy to reduce pregnancies deemed undesirable by white decision makers.
The legacy of this history is still visible. We see it in assumptions about who’s getting pregnant. We see it in a willingness to provide comprehensive sex education in alternative schools while preferring abstinence-only education in traditional schools. We see it when communities of color are justifiably hesitant to engage with public health agencies.
First, we need to commit to having hard conversations with each other about how racism impacts our work, as well as the youth we serve and the professionals with whom we work. We also need to engage young people to do the same.
Helping Young People Grow Up Healthy
Although it’s a sad truth to reckon with, some young people are learning to hate – at home, in their communities, and, increasingly, on the Internet. We saw many young faces willingly display that hate in the open in Charlottesville, Boston, and other cities. We need to recognize that racism and bigotry don’t belong solely to past generations.
We must help create opportunities for young people to understand the world and the people around them and, ultimately, reject and address racism and bigotry. There’s no foolproof, evidence-based program for this, but we know that silence isn’t an option. We encourage ongoing conversation, research, and innovation to help us understand how to eliminate these elements from the lives of young people.
We Are With You
Finally, we want to express our solidarity with you.
For our partners who are people of color, LGBTQ+, and religious minorities: we cherish you, we stand with you, and we want you to know that we see you, we hear you, and we are listening.
For all our partners who work directly to support young people: we are so grateful for you. The lessons you provide help young people develop a sense of respect, community, responsibility, and empathy. Your support helps young people understand that they are valued. Moreover, you’re helping your communities understand the importance of serving adolescents and young adults.
For all our partners leading conversations to challenge racism and oppression: we applaud you. You are strengthening and setting a standard for our future.
We strongly believe that conversation, education, and action can make a difference. Sitting in that woman’s living room as we were going door-to-door, we heard her repeat what she had heard about teen pregnancy and race. We met her misperception with facts. We also listened to her and used the perspective to shape the community conversation on teen pregnancy.
The events in Charlottesville and the conversations that have followed tell us that we, both as people and as an organization, need to talk more about race, about experiences of discrimination, and about how to build a more just – and healthy – society. We are committed to challenging racism and inequity one step at a time. We look forward to working with you to make North Carolina a better place for our young people.
Additional resources on racism and sexual health:
Reproductive Injustice: Racial and Gender Discrimination in US Healthcare: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CERD/Shared%20Documents/USA/INT_CERD_NGO_USA_17560_E.pdf
Advocates for Youth Resources for Youth of Color: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/topics-issues/youth-of-color?task=view
Ending White Supremacy in Ourselves: A Time for Nonprofit Action: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2017/08/14/ending-white-supremacy-nonprofit-action/