Quinn Wright, a local activist on race relations and the chair of the newly formed Madison Heights Human Relations and Equity Commission, said that self-reflection can help people to be more aware of how they engage others, and lead to a more inclusive society.

Quinn Wright, a local activist on race relations and the chair of the newly formed Madison Heights Human Relations and Equity Commission, said that self-reflection can help people to be more aware of how they engage others, and lead to a more inclusive society.

Photo provided by Quinn Wright

Local activist reflects on racism

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published September 18, 2020


MADISON HEIGHTS — The killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, caught on video for all to see, rattled America to the core, leading to protests across the country. In communities such as Madison Heights, it has also started conversations on how racism is ingrained in society and how discrimination can take many forms.

Quinn Wright is one of the voices speaking up. A Madison Heights resident and father of three young kids, Wright works as a financial advisor for Edward Jones in Rochester Hills. He is also Black, and he has brought his perspective as a person of color to forums organized by the grassroots group Madison Heights Citizens United, discussing race relations.

In an interview prior to one such forum — set for Sept. 17, after press time — Wright reflected on America’s reckoning on race, including why people shouldn’t feel intimidated by the issue, and how people can work toward a more inclusive society.

Starting the conversation
“I was invited by the organizers to provide a voice for minorities in the community,” Wright said of past forums. “In George Floyd’s death, we saw yet another Black man killed inhumanly. At the same time, we also saw how society as a whole has grown numb to seeing this type of thing. But the thing that the detractors missed from George Floyd’s death was that it embodied how Black men are dehumanized in America at times, and that it’s wrong. Thomas Jefferson said we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. We are just asking to see that equal part.”

Wright said the core issue is systemic racism, where discrimination is ingrained in daily life.

“People who do it are unaware, and those who experience it have grown so numb that they just accept it as normal, when it is emotionally damaging to the core,” Wright said.

“I’ve experienced it firsthand,” he continued. “Hesitating to run after my dog that ran out of the open gate at night out of fear I’d look suspicious. Being kept in a lower position despite my merit and skills, to the point where I was training my manager on how to lead the team, then doing it again with a new manager. Having to decide how many subtle racist comments I will disregard before causing a scene, which I know will draw negative attention, despite me being the one that was accosted.

“These are some of the ways I deal with racism every day. The message I would want my white neighbors to understand most, is that for people of color, race is the predominant factor in how we are seen and thus treated. I often hear the phrase, ‘I am colorblind,’ but that statement disregards the entire beauty that is in every color. While I can appreciate that sentiment, the reality is that there is an infinite amount of colors in this world. To homogenize them as one is to dismiss the beauty that each color holds.

“Rather than pretend like you don’t notice it, I say let’s embrace it and say, ‘yes, it is amazing and it is beautiful, and just as I accept myself, I accept you for all that you are as well, including your faults and imperfections.’”

Admitting we all see color then allows us to look at the different realities people experience.

“Understand the difference between being a minority in this country versus being white. As a minority you are seen first as your race and second as an American. When you are white, you are seen as an American who is of German descent or Polish descent or of Italian descent,” Wright said. “We (minorities) are rarely offered that same privilege of being seen as American first.”     

Looking within
Wright said that the phrase “recognize your racism” may sound judgmental, but ultimately it’s just a humble acknowledgment that you’re human, and you’re willing to learn and grow.

“Just like we all have our share of knucklehead moments, you can also grow and change and become a responsible, empathetic human being. The concept of racism is no different,” Wright said.

“Racism is a verb. It is an action word. It’s something that you do. But it’s not necessarily who you are,” he continued. “We all have moments where we mess up or think in a way that misses huge pieces of the puzzle. We’ve come to a point in society where we expect instant gratification and make snap judgments. The reality is that humans are far more complicated. It is possible for you to have supported a racist idea and still be a good human being. You can have supported racist policies in the past with only good intentions. We must accept that our humanity has always been a duality of being.

“In one moment, you can do or say or support something racist — and in the next, you can do or say or support something anti-racist. We have to acknowledge that those missteps don’t necessarily represent who you are as a person,” he concluded. “I believe people are so reticent to accept being racist because they know being racist is bad, and it’s hard to accept that you are bad. … That’s why we have to recognize that racism is a verb.”

Seeing inequality
When one looks at racism with an open mind, rather than a mind closed out of self-defense, they begin to see its presence in the world more clearly.

“Often racism isn’t overt — it’s very simple and subtle. Hiring someone because their name is Jacob versus Jerome, or assuming someone is smarter, stronger or has certain ethics based on their race are all examples of racism,” Wright said. “While biases are normal and a part of how we define our world … those biases can prevent you from seeing the individual as who they are, compared to who you expect them to be.”

Wright believes that one cause of racism in America is wealth disparity, which for many people of color limits their path to higher education, and thus their participation in certain parts of society. Equally troubling, he said, is the way people have used technology to form “silos” on social media, where they only converse with people of similar beliefs and backgrounds.

“I would encourage everyone to have uncomfortable conversations with their neighbors,” Wright said. “Break away from the screens; break away from the silos and echo chambers that we are all stuck with. It is hard to hate up close, so make friends who are different than you, and have conversations where you focus on listening and hearing more than being heard.

“And most importantly, understand that silence is compliance. Just because you don’t directly do racist things, allowing them to happen around you is just as bad. That was the big takeaway from George Floyd — it wasn’t just that he lost his life, but the way it happened was a reality check that we have grown numb to the merciless treatment of our neighbors. These are sons, daughters, parents and fellow human beings.”

Word of appreciation
Kymm Clark, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, commended Quinn for his work educating people on the issue of racism. She expressed some frustration with the resistance that she has seen some people show toward the issue.

“I think the biggest hurdle we are experiencing in our city is the disconnect between the experiences of our white neighbors, and that of our neighbors of color. When protests began more than 100 days ago, the response in Madison Heights was largely supportive, empathetic and kind. But behind the scenes, on social media, we see neighbors who cannot wrap their heads around the experiences of our neighbors of color,” Clark said.

“Several conversations have been hosted throughout the city where neighbors like Quinn Wright illustrate their personal battle with racism here in Madison Heights, and yet community members who have lived here for years just don’t see it, refuse to take the time to hear these stories and have a difficult time accepting it as an issue that our city faces, because it doesn’t directly affect them personally.

“These conversations make them uncomfortable,” she continued, “because they are equating the demands for equality to what they are seeing on the news, being portrayed by riots, violence and vandalism. Fear has prevented them from embracing a world where we can learn and grow together to come up with solutions to create a more equitable environment for all of our neighbors.

“Then we see neighbors like Quinn, who not only persevere, but remain patient and diligent, hosting opportunity after opportunity for our community to become part of this global conversation in a way that unites us,” Clark continued. “I was so proud and excited to see him become the chair of the city’s new Human Relations and Equity Commission. This group has a very unique opportunity to address these disparities in our policies, and decide how we can make impactful change to close those gaps. Quinn is the perfect person to lead that charge. I cannot wait to see how his experiences and leadership work to shape our community.”