Letter to the Editor: Difficult Conversations on Race & Culture

Letter to the Editor: Difficult Conversations  on Race & Culture
Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Vox Efx

By Camille Russell

Ernesto Saavedra’s decision to leave the Community Alliance was a surprise and a big disappointment to me and others on the newspaper’s board. We were happy when he accepted the job a little more than a year ago. We felt that his community connections and activism at Fresno State with MEChA and as a paid organizer with Californians for Justice were assets. As the Alliance editor he took to the job quickly, wrote well, shared his views openly, brought in younger writers and artists, and seemed well suited to the job. The board was happy with his work and told him so on many occasions.

However, in his farewell editorial Ernesto’s reasons for leaving came as a surprise to me, a White liberal/progressive Community Alliance board member. Ernesto doesn’t focus on long hours, low pay, not liking the work or constant decision making—reasons I would understand easily. Rather, he focuses on feeling criticized, unsupported and being molded into something he is not by White liberals/progressives. He writes of experiencing “micro-aggression, micromanaging, offensive comments and behavior, a sense of entitlement and feeling tokenized.” I was unaware of these feelings. This isn’t intended to discount Ernesto’s feelings or their legitimacy, but to point out how differently I saw the situation and how little I knew of his experience as editor.

Ernesto says that in talking with others from marginalized communities, they too experience these problems with White liberals/progressives. He goes on to say, “If we want to continue working together in the community we need to address these deep-seated and uncomfortable truths individually and systemically.” To that I say, “Yes!”

I hope that Ernesto’s experience and his willingness to discuss his feelings will open the door to difficult conversations and a genuine exploration of our shared experience. I believe White liberals/progressives who support the Alliance want to work with the diverse communities represented in the newspaper. A look at topics historically covered by the Alliance reflects the values of a community seeking inclusiveness and compassion— antiwar, environmental justice, homeless rights, immigrant rights, labor, LGBTQ issues, police accountability and racial justice.

Where might we start? Actually, conversations have begun. There are books, study guides and expert facilitators in Fresno to help us explore cultural/ racial misunderstandings and opportunities for growth. On Sept. 26, Vickie Fouts, organizer of the Uprooting Racism group, held a screening of Mirrors of White Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible, followed by a discussion. Contact her at socialjustice@sti.net.

This work requires face-to-face interaction. Reading about the topic, watching videos and engaging online are insufficient. Let’s each make time to join others in a journey of cultural and racial understanding.


Camille Russell is a retired elementary teacher, a Community Alliance board member and Peace Fresno board member. Contact her at camille.russell@att.net.


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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