This summer has seen an unprecedented time in U.S. history. This pandemic has forced folks to pay attention to things that they may have swept under the rug before. With the murder of George Floyd, the country was, once again, brought to a reckoning.
But the murder of George Floyd was just one incident in a long line of police brutality against people in the U.S., specifically against Black people. The police system itself evolved in different places around the country as a formalization of the slave catcher system that was implemented in 1704. And the first publicly funded police force, in Boston, was requested by merchants to protect their private property, yet paid for by taxpayer dollars.
Since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, many things have changed in this country. We elected a Black president, for the first time in history, in 2008. So many saw that as progress that we had arrived in a post-racial society. But with the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013, and the killing of Michael Brown by police in 2014, it became clear that the racial violence in the U.S. was long from over.
This pandemic has forced folks to pay attention to things that they may have swept under the rug before. With the murder of George Floyd, the country was, once again, brought to a reckoning.
Seven years after the initial post about Black Lives Matter from Alicia Garza, we are still seeing that in the U.S. that not enough has changed and Black people are still dying at a disproportionate rate at the hands of the police than their white counterparts. But the truth is, this was far from the first time that people had protested police brutality in America. So the question is, why does it keep happening?
The complexities of what we are facing are far more than can be covered in a single article. But as the studies show that we are far more segregated now than we were in the 1980s, we need to keep having this conversation.
Having grown up primarily in the ‘90s as a South-Asian American, I was often told that racism was a thing of the past, that people needed to move on. Now, as an adult, I can look back at my childhood and see that it was fraught with racism, but because we were pretending like it didn’t exist, I always thought there was something inherently wrong with me.
Now, as an adult, I can look back at my childhood and see that it was fraught with racism, but because we were pretending like it didn’t exist, I always thought there was something inherently wrong with me.
As I went off to college and started to learn more about how racism is systemic, I realized it was so much more than about being nice to your friends and neighbors. I was trying to understand why I didn’t know any of this until I was in my late teens. I finally read about historical events such as the Massacre of Black Wall Street. None of this was in my history books. I had to learn U.S. history outside of all of the U.S. history classes I had taken. I had not been taught that mass incarceration has evolved from Jim Crow laws. It made it easy to deny everything I had never learned.
When I started to fill in the gaps from my so-called education, I realized that the reason we are still in this moment of intense inequity is that the U.S. has never acknowledged and owned the atrocities that they have enacted. By calling what Columbus did a “discovery” rather than a hostile takeover, by arguing that Indigenous people should not have rights to land that they were given in treaties, by continuing to kill Black people and call it policing, the U.S. has rewritten its history.
By calling what Columbus did a ‘discovery’ rather than a hostile takeover, by arguing that indigenous people should not have rights to land that they were given in treaties, by continuing to kill Black people and call it policing, the U.S. has rewritten its history.
In Germany, following WWII, the monuments that were erected were about memorializing the victims of the violence and trauma that Nazis inflicted. There were memorials to the brutalized, not the war criminals. There were open acknowledgments all over city streets of the violence caused by their own citizenry. When the South lost the Civil War, they erected statues of the racist heroes that demanded the enslavement of fellow human beings. It makes it difficult to condemn the behavior and those actions if we are still worshiping them to this day.
I had to learn how problematic our country has continued to be after the Civil War from my friends and my own research, not from textbooks. And because of that gap in learning, I had likely supported bad policies and politicians along the way, further contributing to systemic racism and inequity. So I, too, am complicit.
If we want that story to be different for our children, it’s time as a nation that we reckon with the things we have been complicit in by our own ignorance and silence. While it may be too late for history, it’s not too late for the future. If we teach it, if we talk about it, we can prevent future generations from continuing to build houses with flawed foundations. But we have to start by beginning and sustaining the conversations.
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