- The Magazine
I, like so many Black Americans and people of goodwill, have had to stop and reflect this past week on the death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement officers in Minneapolis. George Floyd’s horrific death was captured on film — searing the painful images into the collective memory of the nation, a scar on the consciousness of the country and its tortured racial history.
Once again, police officers have circumvented the law, assuming the role of judge, jury, and executioner. Once again, the nation cries out for justice after four hundred years of racist atrocities scarring yet again the soul and spirit of our nation. Once again, people take to the streets, venting centuries of fear, pain, anguish and frustrations. Once again, a small minority of people hand themselves over to violence and chaos believing this the only way to make the nation listen and respond.
Of course, no one is saying that violence is the answer. Violence will not dismantle violence. Violence will not finally bring an end to the de facto apartheid that has long existed in the United States. Years of political disenfranchisement, economic abuse and exploitation, social isolation and cultural marginalization will not be healed or transformed by violence. Violence is not the answer. It never was and is not the answer today.
Nor is violence an equalizer. If the entire economy between Maine and California were destroyed tomorrow, the total damage would not come close to equaling the emotional, physical, psychological, cultural, and spiritual damage and loss suffered by people of African descent since the first enslaved people arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.
The sad fact is that many people sincerely believe that America is not racist, while others believe that African Americans should share in the moral burden and political responsibility of ridding the nation of its systemic racism and bigoted spirit. Simply put, this is yet another form of moral depravity. African Americans did not take away anyone’s nation, culture, language or spiritual practices. African Americans did not enslave people. African Americans have not lynched their neighbors nor restricted people from exercising their basic American rights. African Americans have not denied anyone the right to work, to study, to buy a home, to go to school, to travel their nation, to live their sacred lives. These are not the sins of African Americans, but these actions do define America’s history of whites against people of African descent. These are the scraps of history out of which people of African descent must build their American Dream.
It must finally be said, the burden, the tremendous burden, of ending racism in America sits completely with White Americans and White Americans alone. White America needs to finally acknowledge their total responsibility for the generating and preserving to this day of a system of racial dehumanization and discrimination that continues to impact and often define the lives and struggles of African Americans. And let us have the courage to acknowledge that this moral burden will have a real financial cost to Whites and their privilege. White Americans must commit to the redistribution of public and private resources; it is time that this nation invested in the health, social, and economic lives of African Americans. We must finally address the profound political and economic disparities that racism has forced upon the African American community. In this cause, African Americans must be the guides and leaders defining the political and economic investments that must be made in their communities.
For more than 400 years, White Americans have benefited from the hard work and invaluable sacrifice of African Americans. Whites have benefited from the privileges that racism has created for White communities. If America is to have a future worthy of its noblest aspirations, it must finally confront the sins of its past — sins that form the very foundation of so many of the inequities and social ills of our present national life. It is time we finally made true amends for American sins if there is to be a future for the American Dream.
To White Americans I suggest two excellent readings on racism: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo and How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.
Earl D. Fowlkes, Jr. is the President and CEO of the Center for Black Equity.
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