How can this be happening? It’s the question many of us are asking as another story surfaces of a black man being murdered by white aggressors.
Racism is alive and well. It wasn’t abolished alongside slavery or with the civil rights movement. It doesn’t stay on the fringes or in secret meetings. It lives and breathes in the everyday systems and structures of our country. For many in the white community, this time particularly feels like a wake up call. It’s a moment of utter shock. And it should be. But for those in minority (especially black) communities, this is not a new phenomenon. Ask the families of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling (and many others). And now, in just the last few weeks we can add Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd to the list that no one wants to be on. The shock that we are feeling reveals that we have been unaware of realities that exist outside of our experience.
I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how we fix this. But I do know this – we have a responsibility to move beyond hashtags. We can’t just be shocked. We can’t just post our outrage. We must do more.
For me, that begins with educating ourselves. A number of years ago I realized I had a real gap in my knowledge when it came to issues of race. As a white man, race was an issue I had the luxury to ignore. The world I had known had always leaned in my direction. I was completely unaware of systemic racism. I had no idea about prisons for profit and mass incarceration and voter suppression. I didn’t know that bird watching was enough to make someone afraid enough to call the police. I didn’t know that black mothers and fathers have “the talk” with their children that has nothing to do with birds and bees, but rather with badges and batons.
But not knowing is not ok anymore. So let this moment move you. Let it anger you. Let it shock you. But please, let it change you. You and I have contributed to a system that allows this to happen. We are not innocent bystanders. We have been unaware long enough.
Below is a list of books I’ve read over the last few years. You don’t have to use my list, but please start to learn. Start to listen.
- The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander
- I’m Still Here – Austin Channing Brown
- The Very Good Gospel – Lisa Sharon Harper
- Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The Sun Does Shine – Anthony Ray Hinton
- Dream With Me – John Perkins
- Gracism – David Anderson