There has been an uprising across America with protests against police brutality and murder of unarmed Black youth, men, and women at the hands of white cops and civilians. The February killing of Ahmaud Arbery shot to death while jogging by white civilians, the March murder of Breonna Taylor, and, last Monday, George Floyd was murdered by an officer placing a knee on his neck for over 8 minutes while three other officers did nothing despite Mr. Floyd’s cries and eyewitnesses’ pleas to stop.
The killing of George Floyd has been a tipping point whereby the dam has broken, floodgates are open, and people flood the streets nightly protesting for racial justice. In addition to the aforementioned tragedies, the past weeks of anti-blackness, racial antipathy, and racists acts have been in full swing. Here are a few case in point examples:
A white CNN correspondent was treated very “kindly” by Minneapolis police while his colleague an Afro-Latino correspondent a block away with his crew and the same press credentials was arrested on air while reporting.
Senator Rand Paul holds up anti-lynching bill in the senate claiming the bill's language was too broad and could "conflate someone who has an altercation, where they had minor bruises, with lynching”.
The aforementioned events spanning the past week illustrate there is much to do in confronting anti-blackness and systemic racism plaguing society and educational institutions. This has been a week of pure exhaustion for me and for many Black folks as many of white mainstream Americans do not appreciate the gravity or get the entirety that the protests and uprisings of the past week are not due to an isolated event, are not just because George Floyd died but that there is an unarmed black male, black female, and black trans person dying at the hands of white police or civilians daily. The eruption of demonstrations is not about the past four days but the compounded interest of racism, cumulative disadvantage, and mistreatment of people for 400+ years.
I have lamented and written about the impact of everyday blackness, racial battle fatigue, and need to affirm Black Lives Matter previously (for example see Waiting to Exhale and Experiencing Reflux in American Race Relations). I recall having “the talk” as a child, with my own children, and EVERY black person I know has had “the talk” and/or been given “the talk” to no avail. There is an old proverb that says, "a guilty conscience needs no accuser." I guess I’m still waiting for the sting of guilty prickings—widespread recognition that there is something inherently wrong with the routine, perennial devaluing and taking of Black Lives.
One reason racism persists and race relations plummet instead of improve is white dominant mainstream Americans feel no compunction at all about Black Lives Mattering or changing a system that is working for them. As Beverly Daniel Tatum and many other scholars have noted, racism is a system of advantage based on race. The origins and continued operation of this country is systematically, structurally, and institutionally rooted in racism. Time and time again racism is exposed and yet little to no outcry from white America of racial injustice.
There is a casual acceptance of racism that is pervasive and permeates throughout society, countrywide, and in education across every tier. The belief that all lives matter, without acknowledgement that people of color have been systemically treated as if their lives do not is a case in point for why the Black Lives Movement emerged. So for Black folk in America this is indeed a tipping point, there will be no proceeding to business as usual and normal operations as we haven’t been and aren’t unaffected by the trauma and racial antipathy that accompany everyday Blackness.
In the midst of this are some well intended white people that are adding insult to injury and adverse impact as they chime in with statements such as, “I know they’re upset but…” or "you are right to feel what you’re feeling” and "we are in the midst of covid which takes up many meetings and time, but we can take time to acknowledge what is happening in our country and how colleagues are impacted." Well please consider the backdrop and full context of why Black folks are so upset before judging, telling or questioning actively protesting racial injustice. Additionally, racially minoritized people don’t require permission to feel what they do at this time and agreeing to take time out from COVID meetings to acknowledge this tragedy comes across as now time for a commercial break then back to the regularly scheduled program.
In spite of being busy, Black folks do not have the luxury of opting in, out, or finding it difficult to make time for racial justice and it is especially not siloed from dealing with COVID-19 given the disproportionately higher rate of cases and deaths that have devastated the Black community. Therefore, as leaders and experts meet to prepare and plan for your respective district, campus, and system in responding to the budget crisis, keep in mind surviving the COVID-19 recession is not divorced from but actually exacerbates the prolonged and sustained hurt communities of color are experiencing.
As I reflect, it is interesting my experience and that of many Black people is quite paradoxical in terms of being seen yet unseen, simultaneously invisible and hyper-visible. I am sure this post with a square focus on race, racial tensions, and racism in America may make some uncomfortable. Nonetheless, the discomfort pales to regularly seeing your people begging to breathe and commonplace is a blind eye or so-called race neutrality as if society and its institutions have ever been or could be color evasive. See all the colors, and recognize that individually and collectively we cannot withstand not being able to breathe again.
In closing, this isn't a feel good blog. This was not written to make you feel better about the state of affairs in this country as nationwide protests intensify. This is about calling a thing a thing. Not enough of mainstream America openly, explicitly, consistently, and actively work toward racial justice. By and large what is received by Black folks and other racially minoritized groups from whites in response to racism are passive statements such as “that’s horrible,” or “those are isolated events,” or remarks that discussing racism “doesn’t feel good” or “these conversations make me uncomfortable” to no acknowledgement just silence.
In calling it like it is, we can be truthful, not be complacent, and actually do something. In the spirit of truth telling, this is the first of a series of blogs we’ll release that problematize and illuminate how race matters. The voices and viewpoints blogs that follow touch on the perpetuation of white supremacist systems through educational boards; black student activism, moving from allyship to being an accomplice in advancing racial justice, and the need for antiracism. Some may ponder amid COVID-19 why not avoid race and racism conversations as many young and old are wrestling with anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. To that I say make no mistake, silence is not helpful and has not manifest in effectively responding to racial incidents and challenging racism is especially needed during this crisis. I know, the truth hurts. But as Mark Twain asserted, "Truth is mighty and will prevail.”
Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher
ACPA Senior Scholar
Past Governing Board Director of Research & Scholarship (2016-2018)