by William Skink
I’ve been curious about who is taking on leadership roles within marginalized communities in Missoula, and last week the Missoula Current helped us get to know an individual by the name of Ja’Ton Simpson.
The subtitle of the interview, by Audrey Pettit, is titled Bringing John Lewis’s “Good Trouble” to Missoula, and begins with this:
Ja’Ton Simpson, a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement in Missoula, begins his interviews by posing questions.
“How much do you know about black history?” he asked.
He doesn’t do this to change the subject, but in an awareness that race is present in every interaction — no matter how formalized, no matter how apparently objective.
This sounds like a good rhetorical device to put someone on the spot and get them defensive. It also helps keep the focus squarely on the topic of race to the exclusion of other oppressive factors that overlap the racial divide, like socio-economic ones.
Much later in the article we get a better idea of where Simpson is coming from as he explains his vision for his role in this movement, a role which just so happens to include his paid work at ATG and networking:
This is where Simpson envisions his role in the Missoula movement: linking student leaders, local organizations, and the city government together to support and expand on each other’s work, eventually forging a network based on anti-racist principles. He believes his knowledge of black history combined with his work as a senior consultant at the Advanced Technology Group (ATG), where he focuses on crafting scalable solutions for diverse businesses, has prepared him to address the larger, more uncomfortable problems in Missoula.
“I know that there is work to be done and I’m not going to rely on someone else to do it. I can make good trouble, as John Lewis liked to say,” Simpson said.
It’s a good thing we aren’t focusing much energy on raising awareness about socio-economic concerns, because if we were doing that we might want to connect ATG with its new Big Tech parent, Cognizant, and then we might want to make the further connection to Cognizant’s gentrification plans and the ever-rising cost of housing.
So it’s a good thing we are focusing on race, because that other stuff might be disruptive to the future plans of our illuminated braintrust, and we wouldn’t want that, now would we?
This reminds me of the young woman the Missoulian was featuring several months ago. Moved here from California, get a job preaching to white people about their privilege and racism, then move somewhere else to do it for money a few years later.
I always thought it was more admirable to try to address systematic racism in communities with actual black populations, but there’s probably no money and actual work invovled there. I noticed after people commented these sorts of things on the Facebook page for the post, the Editorial board came out the next week to address the “racist comments” she faced and again commented on her bravery.
We literally live in upside down world.
One concerning thing is how much of our perception of our local community is framed through people who have no connection to it. In Bozeman last time they surveyed most city residents only lived there 3-5 years and moved, and that wasn’t necessarily including the college students. Most reporters start out in small places like Missoula or Bozeman but move away once another job opens up. This is also the standard career path for academics. So I guess it makes sense to just vote for current services through future debt since most of them will have moved away before paying for it themselves. Makes hard to manage communities long term through when nobody “working for change,” scolding us for our poor privilege from an academic ivory tower or telling stories (ie “journalism”) will be here in 5 years. Only investment is in their own careers and reputations.