Toward Liberation: An Interview with Jeremie Greer on the Racial Equity Governing Agenda
By Michael McAfee, President and CEO of PolicyLink
I use the term liberation, and especially “Black liberation,” because it keeps me honest. It means I recognize that some groups are recklessly oppressed, and people with power have a responsibility to intervene. Supporting Black liberation requires leaders to hold themselves responsible for correcting any policy that does not shift power dynamics between the historically privileged, and historically marginalized.
In my conversation with Jeremie Greer of Liberation in a Generation (LibGen), we discussed why simply using terms will not create the important outcomes words like “liberation” and “justice” imply. PolicyLink’s Racial Equity Governing Agenda shares LibGen’s aim of uniting advocates and organizations with the ultimate aim of fostering Black liberation. Our goal is to ensure this agenda creates the conditions that liberate Black people from social, political, and economic oppression.
Jeremie and I sat down to discuss Liberation in a Generation’s evolution and how their work aligns with the Racial Equity Governing Agenda.
- Not every organization has a name that is also a call to action. Can you tell us a little bit about the meaning of the name of your organization: Liberation in a Generation?
We have a bold name because Black people need bold solutions. My co-founder, Solana Rice and I have pretty extensive background in the non-profit, social advocacy scene. Through our research we found that if no intervention was made, by 2050 Black and Latinx people would have zero dollars in wealth. Right now, it’s around $3,000.
In the same way the climate movement created a 2030 deadline for correcting for environmental destruction, we believe it’s important to correct for social destruction. We chose our name to acknowledge the urgency of addressing the continued economic devastation of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian/Pacific Islander communities. But, in the nonprofit world that Solana and I come from, most people are only coming up with band-aid responses that don’t center the needs of those most oppressed.
- You mentioned one aspect of the Racial Equity Governing Agenda that resonated with you was around liberating the voice of the people. Why is the point so important?
Part of what makes Liberation in a Generation unique is that we are not air-dropping solutions for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian/Pacific Islander communities to implement. We connect grassroots organizers with philanthropic leaders, bringing local ideas to powerful tables.
The problem isn’t that we need to find our voice, it’s that, for the most part, power doesn’t listen when we speak. When we speak, we make power uncomfortable. But, that’s part of our work at Liberation in a Generation — being brutally and uncomfortably honest about how we got here.
Racism is profitable. It’s a profitable endeavor that elite corporate institutions have used to build their wealth and create profit, and it is what drives a lot of activity in our economy. Instead of putting a muzzle on the people who share truths like this, we need to ensure we’re heard.
Once you know something, you can’t “un-know.” People don’t want to hear our truth, because to hear an ugly truth and stand idly by would be cruel and unjust. When you hear our truths, you have to do something about it. Most people would want to keep us quiet so they can go about business as usual, talking over and ignoring our truth as Black people in this country.
To liberate the voice of the people would require us to finally accept the ugly truth, and no longer minimize or ignore the never-ending legacy of chattel slavery.
- How would you say your work connects to our federal government and policy?
While some people want to disconnect government from the economy, our work recognizes that the government has everything to do with the economy. The government drives the economy and determines who benefits, who loses. It determines what the rules are. And, what we need is a government that is finally working on behalf of people of color so that we can all thrive in the economy.
Despite the popularity of neo-liberal policies that believe in shrinking government, we know that the government has intervened in times of egregious economic distress. You can look at the way that the white middle class was built after the great depression. That’s an example of government stepping in and saying we need to do something different because people are struggling. The difference was, they said this is only going to be for white people. It’s not going to be for Black people or immigrants.
So, our work requires that we build Black political power to create policy that pushes the government to change.
- Some people might think focusing on the Black community, instead of the people of color community more broadly is exclusionary. What are your thoughts on centering Black people?
I think the fact that that question even comes up, and gets taken seriously, shows that white people are still driving racial equity discussions. I think one of the things that holds us back as people of color is that we are doing it within the confines of white power. When we operate within the confines of white power the resources and tools we need to advance becomes this finite thing. Then, it’s like Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian/Pacific Islander communities are just left with these crumbs that we have to fight for.
We definitely don’t believe in “oppression olympics,” or trading on privileges that other groups get denied. For example, American born Black people don’t have to navigate problems of citizenship in the same way Black people not born in this country do.
When we center Black people, we are not doing it to the exclusion of other oppressed groups. We are centering ourselves so that we can be a greater ally to other groups. And, we believe other groups should be centering themselves too, for the same reason. Centering ourselves means aggregating our own power, so that we are not dependent on white people to share theirs before we can push for the implementation of a liberatory policy or agenda.
Once we are able to create our own power base, I think it creates more opportunity for us to work together because we don’t have to worry about the baggage that comes within sitting within a white power infrastructure. We can create more powerful coalitions because we are also powerful unto ourselves. So, we definitely stand for Indigenous power, Latinx power, and power for people across the Asian diaspora — we know that Black liberation serves liberation for us all.
- What is the change you most want to see for this generation?
I think the change would mean this generation actually being the change. If this generation is equipped with access and resources, we really can dismantle the oppression economy that chattel slavery created. We shouldn’t have to think about “white think tank ‘x’ in Washington” to come up with the ideas about and for us. It should be the job of philanthropy to empower us to do it ourselves. Now can a white think tank be an ally? Absolutely. But, we should be the ones out front.