An interview with Jane Fried of the Mansfield Human Rights Commission on racism in America


On Thursday, Oct. 27, Jane Fried, vice-chair of the Mansfield Human Right Commission for intensifying equality for all in Mansfield, will hold a discussion on “Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race.” This event will discuss in-depth how and why the ideas of “whiteness” and “blackness” have developed, and — as a result — the social and cultural effects of those thoughts.  

Fried, a retired professor, said she dedicates herself to the Human Rights Commission and its mission. 

“We make sure everyone in our community feels welcome and is treated fairly and with courtesy,” Fried said. “We should respect them. Help everybody who lives in Mansfield get to know people who are different from them, so they can be friendly, and not afraid of each other. That’s what we are trying to do.” 


Q: Why did you decide to hold this book discussion? 

A: Racism in our society is thought to be abolished and eliminated. But it is not true. There are still a lot of racism issues that need to be resolved, divided by the idea of whiteness and Blackness. This has had detrimental impacts on our society not only in the past but even today. 

Q: This discussion event seems to be relevant to the history of discrimination against people of color. If so, could you explain the idea of whiteness and blackness more? 

A: In 1600, English landowners settled North America, and they invented the idea of whiteness as an economic device. And they also created the concept of blackness, which applies to people who the white people stole from Africa. When they took the people from Africa here and forced them into unpaid work, also known as slavery, they had to set up a distinction between two different kinds of human beings in North America. The white landowners in North America who purchased the Africans made them into properties and stopped considering them human beings, a system called chattel slavery, which means this person will be bound to that fate for the rest of their lives… So whiteness was invented by people who need to make money from people who came from Africa. They put it into the law in a variety of different ways that they are dehumanized, and then push it to victimize anybody who came from Africa. 

Q: What kinds of disadvantages did African American people suffer from the law set up at that time? 

A: The American system is set up to think of white people as normal people and eligible for all kinds of human rights. These kinds of rights include the right to vote, the right to live where you want to live, the right to marry, the right to keep children, the right to own property and to sue people in court, so if you are white, these rights are automatically yours. Black people after slavery were not granted these rights, none of them are awarded to them specifically. 

Q: We are inclined to think, after the legal abolition of slavery, there have been huge changes since then. This book discussion is essential for everyone regardless of their identity. Could you explain why it is important to anyone regardless of their skin color? 

A: And now in law, Black people and white people are equal. That in practice may not be true. [Black people] are still discriminated against terribly and victimized in many ways. I could give you one example. This example is representative of the perishless discrimination in our society. There are towns in the United States that have public parks. And public parks have a swimming pool. And they are far away from any natural water, so people cannot swim. So in public parks, in the 1950s, only white people could go swimming in the public swimming pool. Black people could not go swimming because they kept them away by law. So somebody changes that law. As Black people are allowed to go swimming. So Black kids start swimming with the white kids, and the next thing is, you know, the town government closed the swimming pool completely and nobody was allowed to swim because they didn’t want white kids swimming with Black kids. That is one example of why racism affects everybody. When people deny Black people rights, it involves denying white people, too. 

The discussion event will be held in Mansfield Public Library at 54 Warrenville Road in Mansfield Center from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

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