I write to you today with hesitancy because I recognize that any words addressing the ongoing murders and violence against people of color will be seen through a polarizing political lens. We sail to escape politics and the other weights of our daily lives. But now, more than ever, I recognize that silence is complicity. I ask for your grace and compassion in advance, as I have failed to find words that share without offending. I’ll just say it: Black people in America today continue to be treated as second-class citizens.
I do not like to offend people, especially people I care about. Business is tough enough as it is. I am tired from the coronavirus. I am concerned about our regional water quality, which is the worst I have seen in years. I worry about the health of our staff. I am nervous for my adopted home, Baltimore, a community I love so much. Yes, that community includes small business owners who are struggling, industry titans who are frustrated, and sailors of all stripes who are fatigued. We are all nervous. But my community also includes people of color who have always been nervous, who have always faced economic uncertainty, and who have always lived in fear of property damage and bodily harm.
I do not seek to co-opt any marginalized person’s narrative. I have not lived a marginalized experience. Unfortunately, many of our DSC staff live a different reality. I have seen the effects of systemic racism follow them even onto the water, where our teens have been pulled over by police multiple times while driving DSC sailboats for infractions like “zigzagging too close” and “failing to yield right of way” while the sailboat was stuck in irons. The increased potential for police violence may be the scariest inequality many of them face, but it is by no means the only inequality they experience.
If The DSC is to be a welcoming place for all people, regardless of skin color or ability, then I cannot represent the creed of our Mission if I remain silent about the systemic American racism towards people of color that continues to manifest itself in the forms of police violence, health disparities, and socio-economic inequality. If The DSC is to continue to be a place of refuge for our Black staff, we cannot be silent.
Speaking plainly, sailing has been an exclusive opportunity for White people ever since it became a sport and it continues to be slow to change. Yes, it is slowly changing. But while other whitewashed sports like cycling, tennis, and even golf have begun to speak out against police brutality and continued racial inequalities in America, the sailing world remains silent. If The DSC is to live out its values, we cannot remain speechless.
We have work to do. The Downtown Sailing Center is not as diverse as we want it to be. Though The DSC has moved beyond its “separate but equal” programming realities, we had only two Black members out of over four hundred paying members in 2019. That is an unacceptable failure on our part and an area we - I - need to improve. We continue to be an all-White full time staff body. Our summer staff population is much more diverse, thanks to the long-term financial support of the Clayton Baker Trust for our Sailing Instructor Training Program… but it has taken years for the graduates of that program to find true integration into our sailing community and to not feel like the token Black poster children.
Fortunately, we have made progress as a Sailing Center and as a community. But as our summer staff begin to trickle back in to work, I see them look deeply at the situation. Though their White peers are fresh and restless from a semester at home, some of our Black staff are understandably on edge. They are emotionally exhausted. I am seeing it, they are expressing it, and I worry about them. Will The Downtown Sailing Center support them this year? Do they have equal opportunities for work? Are they going to receive equal pay? Were my promises of equality just words… or are we going to do what is right and live out our Mission? Silence is complicity.
Black lives matter.