On June 12, 2020 the Star Tribune published an opinion piece by Ahmed Tharwat that references Seward Co-op’s decision to discontinue hummus and other products made by Holy Land. Below is our response to Tharwat’s opinion piece. Our statement on our decision can be found here.
In response to an opinion piece in the Star Tribune by Ahmed Tharwat alleges Seward Co-op “…had a liberal snap moment and proudly announced to everybody that they don’t sell Holy Land products anymore.” These allegations are not rooted in truth and fail to acknowledge Seward Co-op’s own equity journey as a cooperative business. We are by no means perfect, and we’ve taken criticism we’ve received to heart. What some community members see as a hasty response to hateful social media posts made long ago is actually a demonstration of our responsibility to hold other businesses accountable. Seward Co-op has an obligation to our community to offer spaces where everyone is welcome.
The decision to remove Holy Land products from our stores was not a “liberal snap.” Seward Co-op’s diversity, equity and inclusion journey began seven years ago when we announced our intention to build the Friendship store in the Bryant neighborhood, a historically African American community. The community had valid concerns about hiring practices and product selection that would reflect the diversity of the neighborhood, and criticism related to the ongoing threat of gentrification in the neighborhood. These conversations were a humbling experience and revealed opportunities for Seward Co-op to shift and adapt.
What has resulted is significant changes toward equity and inclusion. Staff continually evaluate Seward Co-op policies and procedures to weed out bias. As an organization we’ve holistically rethought recruitment, hiring and operational practices. We have continued to demonstrate our commitment to equity and inclusion with investments in ongoing cultural competency training, and by forming an Equity and Community Engagement department. These deliberate changes are how we understand our community-owned cooperative can become anti-racist.
We did not “proudly announce to everybody” that we discontinued Holy Land. And we were not the only business to choose to end their relationship with them. As a business focused on equity, we were forced to choose between removing products from a beloved immigrant-owned business and ceasing our 30-year business relationship with them, or putting the emotional safety of our staff and wider community at risk.
George Floyd was murdered just six blocks from our Friendship store on E. 38th Street. We learned of Lianna Wadi’s hateful social media posts during a moment when our Black staff in particular are deeply impacted by trauma in our community, and at a time that we specifically highlighted the direct experience and trauma of one of our African American managers. To leave these products on our shelves would have sent a powerful message to co-op employees and to our shoppers that the kind of hate expressed in the posts is somehow acceptable. We chose to center the emotional safety of these staff and community members over our relationship with Holy Land. We also recognize that many different identity groups, not only Black people, were targeted by these hateful words. We support the deeper healing and safety needed for all marginalized people in this moment.
Our society has been too quick to forgive hurtful racists statements (as well as deeds), and too slow to redress the harm they cause. Culture-wide, we are just beginning to recognize the scope of the harm and pain caused by racism which is real, persistent and lethal. These harms extend to many groups, not uniquely to those identified by race. We do not believe that naming and rejecting this type of hate speech is hasty; rather, it has been too long delayed.
We believe people can change. We all make mistakes in life. We encourage Holy Land’s ownership to stand with us against racism and bias. When the deeper work of reconciliation happens, we are willing to be in dialogue with the company about repairing the relationship. The first step for any business is to take full responsibility for the harm AND to get into action addressing their own bias within.
Our decision earlier this month was to support Seward Co-op staff, and to cause no further harm to them or to co-op shoppers. We hope that this action, and actions of many other businesses who ended their relationships with Holy Land compels the Wadi family in the direction of one day being a business that is no longer perpetuating racism and hate. It will take much more work to heal and repair the damage in our community. Developing this process is Holy Land’s responsibility.
Seward Community Co-op General Manager
LaDonna Sanders Redmond
Seward Community Co-op Board President