Juneteenth

WE ARE HERE TODAY TO CELEBRATE JUNETEENTH, THE DATE THE LAST SLAVES WERE FREED. THE SLAVES WERE FREED BUT NO TIME WAS WASTED BUILDING SYSTEMIC RACISM INTO OUR LAWS, INSTITUTIONS, POLICIES AND PRACTICES.

What will it take to really be free?

Today we say the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. It says that we are one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty and justice for all. This is the elephant in the room. And we all know that it is not true.

We all have heard lately about the deaths of George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee and so many others at the hands of police. Yet little has changed. Two men were found hanged from trees in California. While the majority of the protests have been peaceful, people are being met with sanctioned police violence, rubber bullets and tear gas. That doesn’t seem to be a response leading to a better understanding or a better resolution of the problem.

What kind of country do we live in that doesn’t care about its citizens being killed by its police, who are supposed to protect us? What kind of people see what is happening and turn their heads, saying, that’s not my problem? What will it take for people to care?

It takes an understanding of HISTORY. An understanding of how African Americans have been treated throughout the past 400 years, from slavery to today’s police violence, mass incarceration, economic, environmental and racial discrimination, access to health care, and voter suppression.

It takes EMPATHY. Who can deny any of the ways African Americans have been and continue to be treated? Deniers need to raise their empathy quotient. I say this to Racism Deniers:

I know you have heard the saying “Walk a mile in my shoes.” But what does it really mean? First, you have to make yourself vulnerable by accepting that maybe you don’t know how someone else has it. Then you have to ask them to tell you what their life is like. Then you need to believe it. After this, it might be easier to truly understand their point of view and where it comes from. Gaining empathy can be difficult for some, but when we all have it, we will become one people, a nation of mutual respect and understanding. We can all live peacefully together and be better for it.

It is going to take recognition of your WHITE PRIVILEGE to get past saying, “That’s not my problem.” Are you saying right now, “I don’t have white privilege!”? Consider this. Can you go out at night in your car without worrying you’ll be arrested or shot? Can you walk around your block without people wondering if you’re suspicious? Do you worry if your children will come home at night without becoming victims of police violence? Can you go bird watching, walk through a white neighborhood or go to a public park, without the police being called on you? Can you go jogging without worrying about being shot?  What if your car breaks down; should you call the police for help? Have you had “the talk” with your kids about what can happen to them when they’re out in public because of the color of their skin? Have the police come into your house without permission and shot your family? Have you been denied a job interview because of your name? Have you been denied a loan because of where you live or the color of your skin? Do you live in a place that is near environmental hazards? These are just some of the things that black people live with every day.  And you don’t. That is white privilege.

Explore the roots of your success honestly and ask yourself what privileges helped you get there. Stable housing? Fully funded high quality schools? Food security? Two parents at home? Educated family members? Lack of generational trauma? Sufficient household income? Exposure to travel or culture? Parents able to guide you when they weren’t working 2-3 jobs to stay afloat? Access to after school educational and recreational programs? Ability to attend college? Job opportunities? Can you still deny it?

This quote from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice Directors Allison Riggs and Ryan Roberson sums it up well. “Change will only come about when the cost of benefiting from a system of oppression that has plagued this nation becomes too high for those in power.”

We have the power to make the cost too high for those who would keep things the same. No matter how much those who have benefitted from preserving systemic racism and white privilege try to outlaw, ignore and distract us, racial inequality has reared its head and is not going away. The time has come to fix it.