I wrote this piece with much fear and trepidation. Should I post this opinion at all? And if so, should I publish in my name or anonymously? The fact that there is fear around making such a decision should tell us that something is wrong here. But why? This is America, land of the free and the home of the brave, right?
The fact is this IS America – Donald Trump’s America, to be precise. The land of persistent crimes against humanity, unchecked hate, and legalized terrorism. In this America, some are brave and some are not as free as others. Standing up and speaking out against racism might mean the loss of my job, being added to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) list of political agitators, or worse yet, being threatened with bodily harm, all for voicing my opinion in a public forum about conditions that affect my life and the lives of others like me. Sure, it sounds melodramatic and paranoid, but well…this is America.
Remarkably, there is much disagreement about whether racism exists in America today, and if so, the degree to which it is experienced and, incredibly, by whom. (Let me pause here to define racism as the unparalleled systemic and societal oppression of people of color through the denial of civil and economic rights, which impact their education, employment, health, housing, family structure, and financial status.) It is possible that racism deniers do not think there’s institutional oppression because they wholeheartedly believe in the ideology that supports it: the idea that not all persons are created equal. A system that operates on the premise that if you inherently see those who are not like you as less than, then it’s easier to dehumanize them, easier to kill, take advantage of, and mistreat them without guilty conscience or fear of reprisal. It is, they have convinced themselves, the natural order of things.
But in the wake of unchecked police and white-supremacist violence, more people of conscience across this country and the world are speaking up against this continued dehumanization. And whether at the hands of those who have had enough, Antifa, or other left- or right-wing agitators, cities across America are burning. In the meantime, the unproductive chatter about looters and protesting decidedly take attention away from what is needed most. Change. The kind of change that comes at a cost. Right now, the cost is high because denial, apathy, and willful ignorance are prevalent. But the issue at hand is simple: If you want civil unrest to end, the oppression must stop.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for continued destruction of property or violence on the part of change agents. But as long as people of conscience insist on looking the other way or putting lipstick on the pig by saying leaders are “out of touch” instead of calling out racism when they see it, the denial will continue. And as long as the denial continues, systematic discrimination of people of color will persist. As long as discrimination persists, brutalization of people of color will be common place. And as long America brutalizes people of color, the protesting—and perhaps the rioting—will ensue.
The violence must stop, but that requires change. We need the masses to take a page from the DHS handbook and the Me Too movement: If you see something, say something. Be a brave person of conscience for people of color. If friends and family, leaders or managers at your company, your church brothers and sisters openly practice racist behavior, record and report it, check it in real time. We need politicians—both Democrats and Republicans, black and white—to take responsibility for the situation in which the country finds itself and develop new policies that benefit the majority. We need advocacy and transparency. This country continues to struggle with its sordid past and deny the depths of its depravity. It’s time that watch dog agencies like Human Rights Watch or the UN Human Rights Council investigate American atrocities by facilitating truth and reconciliation councils in the interest of America’s endangered population. It’s time for America to own its awful history and write a new future. We need an America in which the underlying principles are not hatred and crimes against humanity but true liberty, justice, fairness, and equality for all. It’s time for a better America.