What’s in a Name? Reflection by Paul Kivel, Founding SURJ Leadership Team member
When a network of us started SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) the first name we
chose was U.S. for all of Us. We thought that this was inclusive and countered public
policy and culture that excluded, marginalized and violated communities of color.
However, because of feedback from Native American activists we realized that the
name was inappropriate. The issue for them was not about inclusion, or civil, equal,
or human rights, as the name implied. They were concerned about the return of land
and issues of sovereignty. The name also ignored the fact that the land is theirs, not
ours. In addition, our assumption that there was an “us” with common goals that we
could define for people of color and Native Americans was classically racist.
We went back to the drawing board and came up with “Standing Up for Racial
Justice” which we also thought was inclusive and spoke more directly to what we
were trying to accomplish. But then we realized that standing up was ableist--not
everyone is physically able to stand up. We checked in with disability justice
activists and they said that the name did not bother them because they got the
metaphorical nature of the phrase. However we had more conversations and
decided that we didn’t want to further able-bodied language, privilege, and assumptions of normality.
Back to the drawing board.
SURJ Affiliate European Dissent NYC, Summer 2015
We eventually decided to use the name “Showing Up for Racial Justice.” It felt a little
less forceful than “standing up” but a lot more inclusive. There are a wide variety of
ways that people can show up and we wanted to create a culture in which every
white person committed to racial justice can find support to make a contribution.
Language is important. We engaged in this lengthy process not to be politically
correct or perfect. We were trying to build an organization and create a culture that
was inclusive, challenging to the status quo, and action-oriented but not at the
expense of thoughtful analysis. In the complex reality of our society, nothing less is
adequate to the tasks we face in mobilizing people for justice.