“Race is the child of racism, not the father.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates
This week, we continue our conversation with Town Manager Austin Faison.
Q. When you were growing up, who were your Black heroes? Who are your Black heroes today?
A. When I was growing up, I idolized athletes because those were the people that were most readily available to me. My father introduced me to athletes from the generations before me (Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, etc.) that were more vocal about their political inclinations. That made so much of an impact on me that I named my son Cassius [the birth name of Muhammad Ali].
More recently, I am inspired by President Barack Obama and the work that he has done in his life. As a biracial male, there are few leaders that have looked like me and sounded like me, so I feel like I have a special connection with him. For additional heroes, I look to the lessons of Paul Robeson, read the works of James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and dissect the speeches of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And I always have a soft spot for Oprah (I tell my wife frequently that I look forward to her following her career path).
Q. Baldwin, King and X fought for the same thing, but in fundamentally different ways. With whose approach do you feel most aligned?
A. I most align with Dr. King. He had extraordinary patience for a common citizen. What his generation was willing to endure through non-violent protest was exemplary. They fought to be acknowledged and to have a seat at the table. I would also note the recent loss of John Lewis, who continued this effort and was the conscience of Congress.
Q. In our last interview, you said, “I am the child of an interracial family, so that further ostracized my direct connection with one culture.” How did this ostracization manifest itself in your life? How did it impact your sense of identity?
A. My parents’ marriage is the representation of the combination of cultures. My father grew up in mostly urban areas and my mother in western Massachusetts. My sister and I were presented with stories of our father having issues while travelling in certain parts of the country. During her first week of school, my sister was told that our mother couldn’t be ours because she was white. I wrote one of my college essays about filling out a form as biracial and how that didn’t really make any sense (how I could literally be of any two races and check that box).
Q. Last month, you brought up the topic of objectivity, which a lot of people are talking about right now. As a Black person, is it possible for you to separate your professional life from your personal experience? If so, at what cost?
A. I have drawn on my education and professional background while approaching the objectivity required of this position. It is difficult for me to have a leadership position within a community and be required to not participate in the local campaign efforts. I would be more forceful with my actions and statements if I were an elected official. All of that said, my race plays no part in my passion for things being equal for everyone.
Q. Most white parents don’t spend a lot of time talking to their children about their whiteness. On the other hand, Black parents are constantly having to tell their children about how their blackness is perceived by society. In what ways do you teach your children about their race?
A. First, it stinks that I have to spend time teaching my two and four year old about the topic of race. We had to stop watching the news in June in our household, because we could tell that our daughter was interpreting that something had happened with George Floyd and the images associated with the protests. My wife introduced a mantra to our children, “I am smart. I am kind. I am loved. I can do anything.” They know that how they, or anyone else, looks shouldn’t matter. We have tried to teach our children empathy and compassion, which I feel are the base items necessary to being in a multicultural society. Our more concrete steps have been to introduce our children to important Black figures throughout history, because they may not be as represented in media or educational materials.
Q. You said the formal education you received in Black History was lacking. How could schools improve the way they teach Black History?
A. Start with teaching a more comprehensive history curriculum and the complete stories of historical figures. For example, The 1619 Project adds context to the traditional history taught in schools. The victors should not be the only ones to tell the stories.
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:
Let’s Talk about Race: A Conversation with Town Manager Austin Faison
Let’s Talk about Race: A Conversation with Town Manager Austin Faison – Part II
Let’s Talk about Race: A Conversation with Town Manager Austin Faison – Part IV