Let’s Talk about Race: An Interview with Town Manager Austin Faison

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin

Amid global protests against police killings of Black people in the U.S., Town Manager Austin Faison delivered a prepared statement at the June 2 meeting of the Town Council, in which he lamented how the Black community is marginalized and disproportionately impacted by societal ills.

Town Manager Austin Faison.

The Transcript decided to interview Faison in order to further the conversation and to discuss how a town that is 93 percent white can combat systemic racism.

Q: You have been Town Manager in Winthrop for almost two years. What is it about this moment in our nation’s history that compelled you to speak up when you did?

A: This moment seemed larger from my perspective. We were in the midst of nationwide protests. I felt that it was necessary to address the moment.

Q: Should the Winthrop Town Council take a strong public position against institutional racism?

A: I think it would be useful for the Town Council to address systemic or institutional racism, but my job is to inform them and facilitate their decision making process. To say that they should do something is not my role.

Q: In your statement, you bemoan the lack of federal leadership on this issue. On June 16, President Trump signed an executive order encouraging police departments to improve training. What is your opinion of the order?

A: The Executive Order makes a small amount of progress, especially the national database. However, I think that it falls short of what people are looking for.

Q: On the state level, Gov. Charlie Baker filed An Act to Improve Police Officer Standards and Accountability on June 17. Do you feel this bill goes far enough in protecting the Black community in the Commonwealth?

A: The Governor’s focus on accountability is very useful. There are additional items, such as arbitration, that I would like to see up for discussion.

Q: What are some concrete steps that the Town of Winthrop can take to ensure the safety and equality of Black residents?

A: The community seems to have a desire for a Human Rights Committee. I think that would be a useful step, to begin learning about and embracing all of the cultures that are represented within the community and the region. Between new attention on use of force policies, changes concerning accountability, and a new committee, there are steps being made as we speak.

Q: How can white Winthrop residents be better allies to people of color both in general and in their own community?

A: Listen to their stories and learn from them. Do not dismiss others as being alarmist on any issue. Recent history should inform people that those who are speaking out are coming from a place of honesty and grievance. And speak up when you see an issue (don’t laugh at the inappropriate joke; point something out that is a racist symbol; etc.)

Q: What resources do you recommend for white Winthrop residents who want to become better allies?

A: Netflix: When They See Us, 13th , #blackAF (it’s a comedy, but there is very good information that is addressed). HBO: Watchmen (it’s a show about a graphic novel, but it uses race as the basis for the first “superhero” in that world). Books: Between the World and Me (Coates), White Fragility (DiAngelo), How to be an Antiracist (Kendi), Just Mercy (Stevenson).

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