Color us shocked: Protesters worry the ’99 percent’ are light on diversity

Mia Watkins Contributor
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The Occupy D.C. protesters crowding McPherson Square say they represent the “99 percent of Americans” who aren’t the most wealthy. But their racial composition isn’t a mirror of the 99 percent of Americans they claim to represent.

A majority of the protesters in the nation’s capital are white, a fact that both black and white activists have noted.

Tate Jawdat, a white woman who has been “occupying” the square for a little more than a week, said she doesn’t see enough color in the crowd.

“The occupation is very white and the committees are largely run by white men,” she told The Daily Caller. “Not a lot is going to change if the committees are run by white men.”

Ira McKinley, a black member of Occupy The Hood, a group aimed at engaging African Americans in the “Occupy” movement, said minorities need to be at the forefront.

“These people that are in the ’hood, that are being disenfranchised the most, need to be here,” he said.

But Cedrice Gamble, a black occupier from Washington’s Maryland suburbs, told TheDC that while white people make up the majority of protesters, African Americans are in fact represented. (RELATED: Occupying homeless ground: Protesters, homeless worlds collide)

“It’s a pretty good mixture of people and pretty diverse,” she said. “There’s a lot of people of color here and different cultures.”

McPherson Square protesters have even formed a People of Color Committee to address the lack of diversity in their movement.

This week the committee hosted members of Occupy The Hood to discuss race relations in protest groups nationwide.

Occupy The Hood spokeswoman Adele Pham said reaching more African Americans would mean protesting against the problems they face on a regular basis.

“I don’t think there has been a direct action yet in terms of sitting with a family that has been thrown out of their apartment by their landlord because they can’t pay their rent anymore,” she explained. “That’s at the root of the problem.”

Writer and activist Kenyon Farrow blamed police brutality in the black community for keeping some minorities away from the protest site.

“To have black people go and put themselves in direct line of fire of police in a mass demonstration, I can see a lot of people who aren’t willing to do that because they have to deal with that every day,” he told TheDC.

Farrow noted that some African Americans may find some of the “Occupy” leaders’ rhetoric offensive. He said protesters have compared America’s troubled economy to modern-day slavery, and big business to slave masters.

“To say that we’re slaves to corporations trivializes the brutality of chattel slavery,” he said.

And the movement’s “99 percent” idea, Farrow explained, may unintentionally exclude minorities.

“What we end up with is a movement that is speaking very much to issues around the ‘middle class,’ which just leaves out throngs of people who are poor.

White occupier Nick Bryner acknowledged that even though African Americans are participating in McPherson Square, the crowd’s make-up does not reflect Washington’s diversity.

“D.C. is a majority black city,” Bryner told TheDC, “and even though there are a good number of African Americans here [in the square] they aren’t the majority.”