What Should White America Do Now? This.
The alarm bell has rung. The 2x4 has been swung. The punch in the stomach has been felt. Now what? Yes, many citizens have awakened to the United States’ greatest challenge — applying the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to the lives of Black Americans. The anti-blackness ideology and structural racism, which causes racially disparate outcomes in all systems, has disturbed the heartbeat of our country through the death of an unarmed and handcuffed African American man, George Floyd. People are angry. People are tired. People are in the streets. Blacks and people of color can’t breathe. We are tired of having a knee on our neck. Will the blackouts, marches, protests, speeches, and writings be enough to change an often dismissive and denial-filled culture?
Without the leadership of antiracist White Americans, I just don’t think it is possible. History provides us with many instances of outrage against injustice that have not disrupted the pattern of Blacks having the worst outcomes in our systems. We have so far to go with a populace who still has difficulty connecting the dots between the past to the present age of “Making America Great Again.” For the White people who do care and support #BlackLivesMatter I offer my model of engagement moving forward.
Hello White People.
As you know America was built by Black labor and brilliance. With that truth, whenever one speaks and engages on the topic of “where do go from here?” It is important to review the history of our country. We must have a clearer understanding of where the divide began because it provides guidance and guardrails for solutions. The real history of our nation makes you uncomfortable and it should. Thinking of how many of your blood ancestors, your tribe, could do such evil things to other humans is disturbing. And in the same breath I ask you to avoid feeling guilt, shame or blame. Although those emotions are real and valid, those sentiments hardly ever result in positive change for all.
White people I am asking you to ACT. Here’s a simple acronym to memorize and apply starting today as you ponder how you can help to heal this country.
1. Acknowledge the History of Injustice. In every system or structure in the United States of America, Blacks are 99.9% of the time having the worst outcomes. There are certain phrases or even governmental terms for the identification of a racial inequity in practice. For example, in education we refer to it as the achievement gap or inclusive excellence. In business it’s called the glass ceiling, trap door or even the Rooney Rule in the National Football League. In the criminal justice system, it’s mass incarceration, mass supervision, mandatory minimums or cash bail. And lastly, and the most impactful, in healthcare we use the term disparities. We’ve gone from slavery, to Jim Crow to Desegregation to now Jim Code, whereby racial bias is showing up in our artificial intelligence and algorithms. Racial inequities are present everywhere. How else do you explain the following statistics?
- A Black woman is 22% more likely to die from heart disease than a White woman, 71% more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 243% more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes. (ProPublica and NPR)
- The median White worker made 28% more than the typical Black worker, which demonstrates the persistent earnings gap. (4th quarter, 2019 — Census Bureau, Economic Policy Institute, Fortune, Black Enterprise, and Al Día News)
- Blacks are almost twice as likely to be pulled over as Whites — even though Whites drive more on average. Blacks are more likely to be searched following a stop. A Black driver has about twice the odds of being pulled over and about four times the odds of being searched.” (Suspect Citizens by F. Baumgartner, D. A. Epp, and K. Shoub)
- African American students (57%) are less likely than White students (71%) to have access to college-ready courses such as math and science. (CLASP & US Department of Education)
We have been collecting data for more than a century. We don’t need any more facts for us to see the importance of acknowledgment.
2. Community Organizing. This term hit the mainstream when we learned about President Obama’s experience as a community organizer. You can’t be a lone wolf fighting for change in this struggle. You will get burned out due to the high level of stress and the demands required to interrupt a history of status quo. You may also run the risk of making judgments without the necessary data and perspective to make informed decisions. Organizing is a means of collectively raising your voice for the voiceless. In addition, it is raising your voice for those who have a voice but are often unheard. I recommend an alignment or membership in organizations such as the NAACP, Showing Up for Racial Justice, a national movement led by White antiracists, and Organizing Against Racism based in the Triangle region of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Organize with other White people whereby you have the space to speak openly about your journey and also not run the risk of offending a person of color.
3. Take Heed of the Past. We can’t fix what we won’t face. COVID-1619, which references the year in which the first ship arrived on the shores of the Virginia colony with kidnapped and unfree Africans, is the most deadly and harmful man-made virus ever. We know its origins and where it lives and breeds. We know that no one is immune. Do your own research on COVID-1619 and its pathology. Don’t accept the white-washed history that was presented to you in most K-12 schools. We even continue to use the word ‘Caucasian’ to describe Anglo-Europeans. What hogwash! We don’t use the other contrived classifications such as Negroid or Mongoloid. Go to the primary sources if you have questions. Speak to the experts! It is amazing how when we decide to have a conversation about race and racism that we will listen to anybody. The opinionated uncle during Thanksgiving dinner, the misguided co-worker at the ball game or the stranger at the wine and cheese reception. We don’t honor the magnitude and complexity of racism and its effects on our way of being. You wouldn’t have surgery from a doctor who hadn’t taken a biology course or completed residency. And yet we hold up and repeat anyone’s sentiments on such a similarly complex and deadly concern just because they observed inequalities at their job or read a book and watched a movie. And what does this blind acceptance lead to? Confusion and paralysis. “I don’t understand how this atrocity could happen!” Well, if you looked at the past performance of our country’s violent history including the Boston Tea Party, all of these law enforcement wrongdoings and hate crimes or race-based tragedies are quite predictable and not surprising at all.
Look at the history of policing in America. During the 246 years of institutional slavery Blacks were not arrested and jailed for attitudes or behavior deemed disrespectful or criminal. It wasn’t necessary to do so as Blacks were not considered fully human; thus, Blacks were kept in bondage. We were controlled and disciplined through the “peculiar institution” of slavery. As the Civil War ended, the proclamation of Emancipation was declared, the 13th Amendment was passed, and Reconstruction began, Black men and women soon understood and acted upon their new found freedom. Can you imagine if you were a white business owner, farmer, or a person with assets tied to the manual labor of the soil and then that labor force just walked away? There goes your assets and your capital! How will you pay your bills? How will you take care of your children and your spouse?
The white man’s need for immediate labor was immense and critical. How do you get someone to come back to work in often inhumane conditions for little, if any, wages? Laws were created primarily in the southern states, known as The Black Codes, to replenish the workforce. Blacks were arrested for walking too closely to a railroad track or for being unemployed, a very likely status considering having just been freed from ownership by one’s master. The Codes were enforced by loosely organized and generally unrestrained militias of former Confederate soldiers and males left behind during the war to protect the local town. These White men didn’t have the newly freed Black people’s best interest, if any, in mind. Thousands of Blacks were now back in bondage as they were then leased out to the businessmen and plantation owners to recreate the system of exploitation. Or as Douglas Blackmon describes the actions as, “Slavery by Another Name.” These men didn’t recognize the concept of “protect and serve” for Black communities. Simply put, law enforcement was an institution designed to monitor and regulate the activities of Blacks. And many argue that the same guiding principle for police is still alive today. Organize with others and use your voice to speak up, organize with your hands to write more, and organize with your feet to vote.
I thank you White people for indulging me in this releasing effort. It is important that you move from being an ally that finds comfort in standing in the background and avoiding attention to being a courageous leader who boldly confronts and challenges injustice. You need to call out your people for wrongly killing other humans. Black people need for you to stop acting like you don’t know who these people are when they are your church members, co-workers, family, and recreational friends. The ones who feel they are superior. The ones who make racist jokes at the family reunion, ball game or networking events. The White people who demand more from Black hires than they do of White ones. The White people who discriminate behind closed doors. The ones who practice their religion only within the church or faith center — not outside of it. Please challenge the ones who attempt to dismantle everything a Black person has achieved after leaving office or a position. Stop the White people who work to implement “divide and conquer” tactics against people of all races who believe in unity and respect for all. Although this movement represents and belongs to Black people, you have a critical role in our country’s future and regaining its respect from the rest of the world. Be a leader and ACT with urgency. The harm and unnecessary deaths must stop. I believe that we are all in a hopeless state of being if you don’t.