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Mary Mitchell Thinks Occupy Chicago is Too White

By Prescott Carlson in News on Oct 27, 2011 6:00PM

Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell put her perfumed handkerchief under her nose and wandered out amongst the unwashed masses at Occupy Chicago on Wednesday, and was concerned at what she saw.

It wasn't that she felt the protesters had the wrong message, or were being rude, or violent. But she feels "something is definitely wrong" with the Occupy Chicago movement -- it's too white:

On its face, it is difficult to see myself in the 99 percent these protesters claim to represent. They are mostly young, white college students, although a few middle-aged and senior citizens were in the mix... What really struck me was the small number of black and brown people among the marchers

Mitchell was able to "hunt" down Brian Johnson, a "40-year-old African-American male who was surrounded by a group of college-age white males wearing bandanas."

She quoted Johnson as saying that if minorities "would pay attention to this movement," they would "understand that it is not [only] about young white people."

Fortunately, Mitchell also "spotted" the only African-American woman in her purview, Zakiyyah Muhammad, who said, "I don't think enough of us has gotten involved... White people are marching for change like we used to do and black people are complaining."

But while Mitchell furrows her brow over whether Occupy Chicago is diverse enough, Rinku Sen at The Nation asks, "Diverse enough for what?" She adds, "Diversity alone will not ensure that [the Occupy movement] advances an economic change agenda that is racially equitable."

Sen argues that it's not about the makeup of the various faces in the protesting crowd, as long as at the end of the day reform benefits all members of society:

We must now move from questions of representation to ask, How can a racial analysis, and its consequent agenda, be woven into the fabric of the movement? We need to interrogate not just the symptoms of inequality—the disproportionate loss of jobs, housing, healthcare and more—but, more fundamentally, the systems of inequality, considering how and why corporations create and exploit hierarchies of race, gender and national status to enrich themselves and consolidate their power.

"If racial exclusion and inequity are at the root of the problem, then inclusion and equity must be built into the solution," Sen said.