San Francisco tech workers and their friends packed the Gray Area Art & Technology Theater on Tuesday in an effort to talk about one thing: racism.
“How many of you get stopped at the airport?” Marquis Harmon asked.
Harmon addressed the largely white audience of about 40 people, discussing racism against the black community and the prison industrial complex. He was the only black person in the theater.
Michael Morgenstern, a tech worker and organizer of the event, acknowledges that many of the attendees have one thing in common: some level of privilege. And that is largely acknowledged in the various meetings and readings groups the organization hosts.
“People are just waking up to the fact that we are privileged,” attendee Dace James Hines said. “The plea for allies is strong, but a lot of people don’t know where to start.”
Let’s Take Action, an organization that supports Black Lives Matter, started as a Facebook post. Morgenstern, also a local filmmaker, asked friends what could be done after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were shot and killed by Baton Rouge, Louisiana and St. Anthony, Minnesota police in two separate incidents this year. Morgenstern called their deaths “a precipitating incident.”
“It brought into the limelight what a crucial and vital issue this is right now,” Morgenstern said. “I think it was the point where a lot of people stood up said, ‘I can’t take this anymore. All the other priorities I have in my life are not as nearly as important as addressing this horribly racist system.’”
The organizers focus on education through reading groups and discussions, resource mapping, and calls to action.
Let’s Take Action has only had three meetings since its early summer launch, including one earlier this year also at Gray Area. But many attendees have done their research, including “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and attending nearby protests. Harmon said it’s important for people to take the steps to “unlearn and relearn” and look at their society from a different perspective.
When asked how he felt about being the only black attendee, and as the speaker nonetheless, Harmon laughed.
“People who look like me don’t have the free space and time to even think about attending the movement because they are so busy trying to survive,” he said. “Someone who allies with the movement should take into consideration what allows them the opportunities to be in that space, and why others that don’t look like them don’t make it to those spaces.”
But Harmon and others think the “safe space” is important. Organizer Michelle Lessans recalled how awkward the first meetings were for attendees, and that’s exactly how organizers intended to make it.
“We are not taught to talk about race, we are not used to being uncomfortable,” Lessans said. Some attendees shared actions or microaggressive comments they have made that would make them racist or bias.
“It’s a place for you to shift your perspective without the fear of people judging you,” Hines said. “We cannot expect black leadership to hold our hand through that or to take a lead in guiding conversations. We have to have that conversation ourselves.”
Let’s Take Action meets next on Tuesday, October 11 and will discuss skills for navigating tough conversations about race.