On violence and racism

Six days ago, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. To bear witness to the pain and grief of this moment is to know that injustice built over time and across every angle of life is too much for a heart and mind to hold. The words of Brittany Packnett Cunningham caught me yesterday:


Black Americans are experiencing this moment as an experience of overwhelm. There is danger lurking in every corner right now. We are disproportionately dying from Covid-19, we are a disproportionate amount of frontline essential workers, we are a disproportionate amount of the people police are arresting due to social distancing regulations, we are obviously a disproportionate amount of people being killed by police, we are also being killed by vigilantes and threatened by white liberal women walking their dogs in Central Park. The experience is one that threatens to shrink your whole world, because in every direction you turn there is the potential for instantaneous and unexpected danger and or death.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham, as quoted in The Guardian, May 30, 2020

This moment is not isolated. Black activists, leaders, scholars, and people of all ages and eras, have been illuminating this truth, protesting and organizing for change for generations. Racism is built into our nation’s systems, policies, and practices, in ways both subtle and overt, in ways that manifest differently over time, in ways that continue to perpetuate the status quo of power, in ways that continue to exert violence on Black people. The deaths of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are interconnected. The burdens of illness, death, and economic suffering borne by Black people due to COVID-19 are interconnected. Inequities in income, wealth, environmental exposures, maternal and infant mortality, food insecurity, and incarceration, among other outcomes of concern, are interconnected. The underlying structure of racism gives rise to exactly the outcomes it is designed to.

I always have more to learn, more ways for my understanding to be challenged, more ways to confront my own complicity in racism and other systems of oppression, but I am aware that it is long past the time of wondering “What should we do?” No matter where we are, in professional or political or personal spaces (and their overlaps), those of us who hold the privileges of whiteness can always, always speak and act with intentional affirmation that Black lives matter. We can push in solidarity to dismantle and build new systems to replace those that cannot be merely reformed. We can work toward equity within systems that can be improved such that all people can thrive. There is no single way, and this is not about a checklist or reading list. It’s about a consistent commitment to listen and actively follow, to think in different paradigms, to be strategic about leveraging privilege, proactive about shifting power, and to be accountable for our impact. The choice to ignore or not seek out the work already being done belies comfort with the status quo.

There are a few resources that I’ve been reflecting on. Again, dismantling the institutions, mindsets, policies, and practices that uphold racism is not about completing a reading list, but when I think of the responsibility that white people have to be accomplices in this mission, it does require doing our own work to understand the vision, strategy, and action as defined by people who are most affected. The Movement for Black Lives policy platforms are comprehensive and resounding; the Ferguson Commission’s report and the on-going work of Forward Through Ferguson and partners demonstrates the path for advancing calls to action locally; the curated resources from Racial Equity Tools and wide-ranging research and initiatives from PolicyLink highlight the strength of content and volume of strategic actions. There is an abundance of resource lists being generated in this moment, and I’ll highlight this blog article by Jen Bokoff, who centers the voices of Black, brown, and Native people and asks those of us who are privileged by whiteness to listen, to learn, and to act in ways that are intentionally anti-racist. Not just now, but always.

In solidarity, I am mourning. I see you and I hear you. You should not have to bear this relentless pain and injustice. The work continues.

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