Speaker: Same boat but different decks

By Christina Killion Valdez

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" and "what affects one directly affects all indirectly."

Yet Victor Lewis modified those words Friday, saying, "What affects one directly today will affect all directly another day."

Lewis, an internationally recognized leader in the field of anti-oppression diversity work and alliance building, spoke at Willow Creek Middle School as part of a two-day forum on dismantling racism organized by seven local organizations.


To explain how all humans are directly connected, Lewis used the saying, "we’re all in the same boat," only he noted, "we’re not all on the same deck."

If that boat had a hole in the bottom that hole would affect everyone, not just people on lower deck, he said, just as racism affects everyone.

"The people at the bottom have a big problem," Lewis said. "The people at top do too, even if they don’t know it."

The people at bottom, however, have knowledge that is relevant to the people at the top. Yet, for a variety of reasons, such as access, he said, they cannot get that knowledge to the captain or the people in the first-class cabins.

The same metaphor can be used for the economic, political, education, health care and judicial systems, he said.

"These systems are broken," Lewis said.

Even if the systems work for the people on top, if they don’t work for the people on the bottom, they need to be fixed, Lewis said.

Fixing the system, or the hole, cannot happen, he said, if there’s a belief that races are in inherent competition with each other, like a sport in which one team wins and one loses.


"No racial justice can come out of that," Lewis said. On the other hand, "What is good for human beings is good for human beings. If it is truly good for one group, it is truly good for America as a whole."

Making the change will take a combination of service, sacrifice, struggle and solidarity, he said.

"Sometimes the gains we seek will be extraordinarily painful," Lewis said. Then referring to the recent presidential election, he said, "sometimes we just have to vote."

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