â€œIf we do not know how to meaningfully talk about racism, our actions will move in misleading directions.â€ – Angela Davis
Last month, the Transcript featured an interview with Town Manager Austin Faison regarding a prepared statement he read at the June 2 Council meeting. This month, we decided to learn more about his own personal experience with the themes discussed therein.
Q. You said in your June 2 statement to Council, â€œI have been the only Black person in the room for most of my life.â€ How has this experience shaped your identity as a Black person?
A. I grew up in Durham, New Hampshire. My family moved there because my father coached basketball at UNH. Although the area is quite progressive and there is diversity because of the University, it is not diverse in the school age population. I was generally the only Black student in my classes. I am also the child of an interracial family, so that further ostracized my direct connection with one culture. Then I went to Bates College for my BA and eventually Northeastern University for my MPA. Neither one of these schools can claim to have good diversity metrics. Through these experiences of being a singular entity, I have figured out how to advocate for my individual position and how to ensure that my viewpoint is represented within a group.
Q. Have you spoken up against racial inequality in predominantly white spaces in the past? If so, what were the outcomes?
A. I struggle with speaking about race in connection with my job. There are many stereotypes associated with Black men who speak up on issues (think angry black man), overexplain their positions (think uppity or professorial), or vocally engage (think dangerous or loud). I am in a delicate position of trying my hardest to help guide the Townâ€™s financial future, support the staff of the largest employer in Town, inform the Council and facilitate their decision making, and now to be a figurehead in a social upheaval of how we acknowledge and discuss race. Since I am not a politician, it is very difficult for me to advocate for my personal opinion or position on topics. Being a professional manager forces me to remain objective and generally agnostic.
Q. Growing up in Durham, what do you remember about the formal education you received regarding Black history? How was this education supplemented by your family and by your own research?
A. There wasnâ€™t a ton of attention to Black History while I was growing up in Durham. Some of my teachers noted important people throughout history, but there was little attention paid to some of the negative qualities of the people that we did spend time on. That said, I was lucky to have a Black father that taught me about Black culture, the heroes that have been celebrated, some that have been forgotten, and the importance that we have played in the foundation of this country. Having a close relationship with UNH also afforded me relationships with college aged athletes and professors that opened my eyes to the world outside of Durham. Lastly, I was a teacherâ€™s assistant in college for an African-American Studies professor, so I had a crash course in that history in college.
Q. Talk about a time that you experienced overt racism or racist microaggression.
A. Every time that an individual assumes that I went to college to help the diversity metrics of my class or that I was there due to affirmative action. And the same goes for my professional life, when people assert that I was afforded an opportunity because of the color of my skin or the positive messaging that could be afforded to my employer.
Q. How has your experience in Winthrop as a Black person been similar or different to the other majority white spaces in which you have previously existed?
A. Winthrop is similar because there are many people that want to help get the culture into the correct place. They are willing to listen, show up, and do the work. This group has been empowered due to recent events, and I look forward to where their work takes them. The way that I would note that Winthrop is different, is that there are vocal people that are advocating against paying attention to [this] issue. I donâ€™t understand how data and numbers do not convince these individuals, but they feel it is necessary to try to redefine or diminish the experiences of others and fail to acknowledge data.
Q. At the Council meeting on June 2, you invited residents who objected to your June 2 statement to contact you directly for a conversation. Has anyone reached out?
A. Nobody has contacted me to further discuss my statements. My invitation stands though. I am more than willing to have a conversation about the formation of my opinions and viewpoints as a Black man.
If you would like to nominate an individual to be interviewed for this series, please email [email protected].
Read the other interviews in this series:
Letâ€™s Talk about Race: A Conversation with Town Manager Austin Faison
Letâ€™s Talk about Race: A Conversation with Town Manager Austin Faison – Part III
Letâ€™s Talk about Race: A Conversation with Town Manager Austin Faison – Part IV
Let’s Talk about Race: Winthrop to Lose Black Resident