Systemic racism is a thing. It exists. It is real. We live, see, and experience it every day. We have been living with the decisions of our forefathers for nearly 250 years. It was important to begin with those statements. Far too often I read others with opposing viewpoints stating that it is no longer relevant to today’s society. It indeed is.
Before we unpack systemic racism, we must understand what racism is. As stated in Oxford Dictionary, racism is defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.” Even with this explanation, the meaning of the word racism has recently been challenged by Kennedy Mitchum, requesting Merriam-Webster revise the definition. The editor also agreed that the widespread definition did not hold accountable all that the word entails. The definition itself did not entail the complexities of systemic racism. According to the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, systemic racism includes policies and practices entrenched in established institutions which results in the exclusion or promotion of designated groups. It manifests in two ways, institutional and structural racism.
Covid & Protesting
I hear often that people do not feel comfortable actively and physically protesting. I get it. I felt the same way. We live in Covid-19 pandemic times and it is all around scary for our safety and our health. Not just for ourselves, but for those we love. Some may have developed a kind of covid-anxiety to the outside world. While others are petitioning government to ban the mandatory use of masks. They are also known as “anti-maskers.” It all depends on which side of the spectrum you choose to fall into. I did not choose to leave my immediate living area until I volunteered to clean up my borough with several hundred Bronx residents from my community. We took to the streets with brooms, garbage bags and cleaned up our own neighborhood after a night of vandalism protesting police brutality. It was not the city who put us back together. It was the people. The people who live, work, own businesses, and raise our children demanding to set a positive example for them, others, and the police who cheered for us as we walked by. It was time to leave my safe and sanitized bubble to do something and participate in the uprising. It was time for me to do more and be present joining my neighbors in solidarity for police reform. Since then, I have participated in four protests. Like many other cities, New York is continually active in the movement which allows for ongoing opportunity and involvement.
There are other ways to advocate for the cause of dismantling systemic oppressions which does not consist of your boots on the ground and fists in the air. Multiple organizations have prewritten letters ready to be sent to state and local representatives demanding change to legislature, petitions that need to be signed and shared, monetary donations to be given for support. There are efforts to assist with voting registration and voting rights with text message campaigns. We can also use the platforms we have been afforded with social media. A hashtag can go a long way extending to a global reach. There are those who have brought the topic of diversity, racism and police brutality in board rooms or zoom meetings with their companies and organizations. This allows for conversation in the workplace and the understanding that where we work needs to be part of the solution, not the problem. There is enough to do. If we collectively do our part in engaging in educating those around us and being the example for the change we need to see, we will get the job done within our personal space and beyond our comfort levels.
Change in Practice
Since the protest began, New York has made some major changes in legislature pertaining to the police force. For instance, the repeal of 50a which traditionally allowed police to shield misconduct records from the public. The fight for transparency now enables what was legally hidden, to be visible. It takes New York one step closer to addressing police violence within the departments and on the streets. This is one of many appeals that have taken place to include banning chokeholds. It is impossible for the police to do their jobs if the communities do not trust them. It is impossible for the communities to trust officers if their actions are actively hidden and held unaccountable. This is a democracy where the people vote for our representatives. We must actively hold them accountable for the needs of the community. People matter. What has your city and state been doing to better support your community moving forward?
Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was fatally shot by the Louisville Metro Police Department. Officers entered her home Mach 13,2020 during a no-knock search warrant. To date, we are still waiting for the officers who murdered her to be arrested. In that regard, only one out of the three officers involved in the killing has been fired. The push for her justice continues. Why? This is a question the 87 protesters who were arrested asked the Attorney General of Kentucky, Daniel Cameron last week as they lead a peaceful gathering on his lawn. We are still waiting for that answer. There have been many steps taken and bridges crossed in this fight. How did we get here? It took 500 years to do it, but now we are. What do we do about it? We change it. We keep going. We do not stop. We educate. We lobby. We hold our government accountable. We speak. We write. We maintain momentum. We say their names.
Resources for Action & Change: