I have kept relatively quiet on social media regarding everything going on right now. The reason for this is simple and selfish: I don’t want to say the wrong thing and come off as uninformed, wrong, privileged, or racist.
But I realize that anyone with even a small platform has a responsibility to address important subjects.
The first thing I must say is that I absolutely recognize my privilege. As a white middle-class woman in the U.S., I am privileged in a way that people of color in the U.S. are not.
I don’t have to fear the police in the same way as people of color. My parents never gave me a talk about how to respond to cops and always have my hands visible. I’ve rarely faced discrimination for the color of my skin, though I have faced discrimination based on age, gender, and religion (I’m Jewish). But it is not the same.
In the United States, white men are overwhelmingly more likely to commit terrorist acts like mass shootings, yet the politicians and police are loath to call white mass shooters “terrorists.” And unfortunately, white men are also the ones overwhelmingly making laws and enforcing rules. Yet Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely than white people to be killed by the police. (Statista)
George Floyd was far from the first black man killed by police in a completely avoidable incident. He will not be the last.
And THAT is horrific.
Institutional racism, also known as ‘systemic racism,’ is racism on a large scale. It’s when racism is so ingrained in a society that it is considered ‘normal.’
According to a recent article in Metro News:
“The term ‘institutional racism’ first came about in 1967 when it was used by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. It entered the British vocabulary in the Macpherson report which examined the killing of Stephen Lawrence, who died in 1997 in a racist attack.
The report defined the term as: ‘The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.’”
Law enforcement in the U.S. horrifically has a long history of hurting and killing black people.
In a June 7, 2020 USA Today article, Jennifer Cobbina, criminal justice professor at Michigan State University states:
“Too often people look at the contemporary issue, the issue that is going on right now but not understanding that all that is happening is seeped in 400 years of legacy of injustice,” she says, adding, “These past grievances, past harms by law enforcement, need to be addressed before even attempting to move forward.”
The article goes on to discuss “slave patrols” as far back as the 1600s, “tasked with hunting down runaways and suppressing rebellions amid fear of enslaved people rising up against their white owners, who were often outnumbered. The patrol was a volunteer force consisting of white men who surveyed and attacked black people and anyone who tried to help them escape.”
Slave patrols were mostly abolished after 1865 when the 13th amendment passed near the end of the Civil War, but African Americans continued to be heavily policed and watched. There were even places where laws were passed that restricted property ownership and employment for Black Americans.
This was also the time of the rise of the KKK and other hate groups.
Any white American who claims they “don’t see color” or that “racism doesn’t exist anymore” is part of the problem.
You MUST see color. You MUST confront the disparity between how different races are treated. “Not seeing color” is part of being privileged. You don’t have to see color because YOU are not affected personally.
The current police brutality against peaceful protestors is also not new. In the civil rights era of the 1960s, there are many examples of police brutality, including using dogs and fire hoses, when Black Americans were protesting segregation and other racist laws and rules.
Racism hasn’t ended. Just look at the Nixon administration’s war on drugs, which unfairly targeted black people. Don’t believe that? Well, John Ehrlichman, former Nixon domestic policy chief, has actually confirmed that the effort was designed to hurt black families. Look at the “stop and frisk” rule in NYC, which unfairly targeted black people. In 2017, 90% of those stopped and frisked were either black or Latino. And guess what? “According to the Washington Post fact-checker, the claim that stop-and-frisk contributed to a decline in the crime rate is unsubstantiated.”
Black Lives MUST Matter Before All Lives Matter
Because if “all lives matter,” then that means we all agree that Black American lives (and all other people of color) are just as important and worthy and matter as much as white American lives.
And the current protests are borne not JUST from George Floyd’s completely preventable death at the hands of those who are meant to protect and serve, but from all the other similar deaths plus hundreds of years and generations of racism that has been ingrained in this country.
This is not an insulated incident, it is a catalyst for change.
While the fear of COVID-19 keeps me from large mass gatherings like protests right now, I remain an ally and want to be a small, singular voice promoting Black Lives Matter and the voices of people of color in America and around the world.
In that vein, here are a few great pieces from Black Americans this week:
- “Not Just George Floyd: Police Departments Have 400-year History of Racism” by Wenei Philimon for USA Today.
- “A ‘Glorious Poetic Rage’” by Jenna Wortham for New York Times.
- “How Black Lives Matter Changed the Way Americans Fight for Freedom” by Frank Leon Roberts for the ACLU blog.
- “5 Ways to Start Being a Better Ally for Your Black Coworkers” by Courtney Connley for CNBC.