Barb Girtman is a Volusia County Council Member representing DeLand-area District 1 and a local realtor.
Q: As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches in 2021, what’s new?
A: There’s been an awakening.
Girtman mentioned diversity and inclusion initiatives that have cropped up in organizations like the Mainstreet DeLand Association, Museum of Art – DeLand, the Fall Festival of the Arts, Stetson University and the Dr. Joyce M. Cusack Resource Center, for example.
Q: How have these conversations evolved?
A: There’s so much attention that happened at one time. And I think that momentum has subsided, and other things have kind of started to surface.
I think that the undercurrent is, the seeds have been planted in the community for an awakening of whites who thought they understood. They knew enough to know that there’s a problem — some have been engaged in one way or another in civil rights and standing up for justice in whatever way they thought they could or should.
Q: Where was the misunderstanding?
A: To me, even though whites today are getting a different level of awakening of understanding, it is not about being the same. I don’t want to be the same.
I want to have equal access. I want barriers removed, because of artificial reasons, like my skin tone, like whatever label you’re giving.
Q: What would you like your white friends to understand?
A: I don’t have to look like you, be like you. I can be me, and be in the way I choose to be, and still have value, and should still be accepted for that.
I just think there’s a baggage that whites have. They think they think Blacks carry the baggage, but to me, it’s really that many whites have the baggage of fear and concern for loss.
There will be a time when a Black person can come into the room, and they’re just in the room, like everyone else. Instead of, you know, we need to give something extra, do something extra. The reason you need to do that is because there’s so many barriers of oppression, suppression, everything.
You gotta look inwardly. Because everything is not about charity.
Everything is about letting people get to a point where they feed themselves. It’s not because they’re lazy people, it is because the environment has created a lack of resources through barriers, suppression and oppression.
Q: Where do we go from here? What are the things we need to tackle, locally, when we’re talking about social justice and inequality?
A: I think what we have to do is more of the same. And to me, more of the same is an opportunity to catch up. Because it’s really about what can we do for Spring Hill, right?
What can you do for you to change your mindset and understanding? This is about allowing and bringing — reversing the suppression, oppression, and barriers that have been put in place. It’s not that they need you to give them something. It needs you to renew a commitment to restore. It’s not about a handout, a hand me down, a charity.
Because anytime Black communities have thrived, most whites have found a way to impede and create barriers, to destroy, burn, kill. That’s reality.
So when we talk about this time in 2021, and what this movement looks like, it looks like to me that white people need to connect to people. Remove the barriers, remove the labels, and remove what you thought your understanding was and create a new perspective that’s based on facts, not assumptions.
Q: What hampers our progress?
A: Sometimes, something is right in front of your face. And because it’s not part of your experience, you don’t even see it.
You’ve got blinders on because you really focus on the things you’re doing and how you’re doing it and why you’re doing it and who you’re doing it with. That’s not prejudice — that’s, you’re focused on your experience and your priorities.
Fairly, everybody has a lane and a priority and a focus. And, that’s one level. Now when you add the prejudice, now you add the white privilege and the barrier to that, that means I’m even more invisible. Because you’re not looking for me. And when you see me, you’ve already labeled who I am, what I am, how I am and what you expect from me.
I think we’re on a reasonable path, but, but ultimately, there’s work to be done. But most of the cards are held by the whites that don’t live in Spring Hill. I think we need to continue to nurture those seeds of awakening and awareness.
Q: How do you nurture seeds of awakening and awareness and bring people together?
A: My question always is, what are you saying within your own sphere of influence? Right?
Are you around a bunch of people who are saying just about anything, and you’re acting like, it’s cool, but then you’re getting in front of me and acting like it’s the biggest insult?
Or are you re-educating the people around you to the best of your ability?
I’m not saying pick fights. But if you’re in an environment, something that’s not cool is happening, you let them know you’re not with it.
To me, the more you do that, the more you tone down labeling and this whole negativity — people understand that it’s not something that people want to deal with. We got other things to do; this is a waste of our time. Live and let live — and get out the way.
I don’t need anything from you, other than for you to get out of my way. For everything that’s available to you to be available to me, and get out my way and see what I do with it.
And perhaps because there’s been so much oppression, suppression and barriers, there can be some resources, so that there is equal or equitable access. And there’s also resources that help me make the most of those resources, because you’ve stood in the way for centuries now.
Q: What is the top issue when we talk about inequality? Is it education, housing, or something else?
A: No. 1 is social justice.
Because those who are unemployed, unemployable, what do you want them to do? If they can’t be successful in a legal way, what do you want a grown man to do other than hit you upside the head?
So you’re gonna pay for him hitting you upside the head. You pay for that pretty extensively over a course of time, or we can pay for the education and opportunity for him to feed himself and his family.
Now, those who have drank the Kool Aid and cannot be brought back to some semblance of humanity? I mean, it’s bad, but you’re not gonna be able to save everybody.
But to me, the equitable access to resources for jobs, for skills for jobs, for their education, for a roof over their head — that’s what makes the difference. And those are the things that have always had barriers.