Make it Plain by Bearing Witness
Can we have a conversation on race?
What are the racial topics that are clearly off the table for whites when they approach the issues of the racial divide and the high level of racism in the United States?
These are essential questions that need to be pondered before we try to deconstruct the murder of George Floyd by four of America’s finest citizens who were sworn “to serve and protect”. The conversation starts at the beating heart of the matter—Racism. The yardstick of racism can determine the quality of life for African Americans and other people of color. Like a carpenter who sees all the tools and materials that will be needed to fix what’s broken, from the wood, nails, saw and hammer, I see anti-racism as the means to solve what afflicts us in this country. As a victim of American Democracy, I have only to compare the standard of living and quality of life of African Americans to whites in this country to measure how short we have fallen from the promise of justice for all.
At times I become disillusioned when the very institutions, groups and individuals who are charged to protect and aid our existence do not deliver on that promise. As an African American man, who has an African American family and promotes the Black family (including teaching a course at the university until it was eliminated), there is no easy way for African Americans to survive white-controlled institutions that put constant impediments and roadblocks in our paths.
The multitude of social and economic disparities between the racial groups in America clearly measure this reality. We live in an apartheid society that has historically oppressed folks by various means. And when Malcolm X comes along and says, “By Any Means Necessary”, whites become dismayed with his intent. Yet, the double standard on display in the practices of our public and private institutions with respect to equal opportunity in hiring, housing, and equality under the law goes unchecked. Only in the criminal justice system do we see “Affirmative Action” policies rabidly implemented, with our jails and prisons disproportionately filled with people of color.
Two recent events demonstrate this racial double standard: When white Officer Derek Chauvin, who was 44 years old, murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 25th, the legal system initially did nothing. After an outcry, Officer Chauvin was subsequently arrested and charged with third-degree murder. As the protest became louder, they upped the degree of the murder charge. Now, if the races were reversed and it was a civilian African American who murdered Officer Chauvin, millions of Americans would be calling for the death penalty for that poor Black man. Meanwhile, he would have been beaten by law enforcement officials before he got into the jailhouse. As in the case of Micah X. Johnson, they might have killed him before his trial.
The second example is the recent tweet by Ja Keen Fox, a member of the Omaha Mayor’s LGBTQ+ advisory committee. On July 8th, Mr. Fox tweeted a reaction to the many white police officers who showed solidary with Derek Chauvin. Mr. Fox tweeted, “Rest in Power Micah X Johnson.” For those who are not aware, Micah X. Johnson was the African American who killed five Dallas police officers in 2016. Ja Keen’s logic was that if white police officers can support a white officer(or officers) in the brutal murder of George Floyd, then he has the same right to offer homage to an African American who was responsible for the death of innocent individuals. How are these arguments different from each other, as on their face, the reasoning all sounds logical and equivalent? This difference in racial perspective is why we need a national dialogue on race topics.
If we are to change the scope and landscape and trajectory of racism in the United States, it will require a significant paradigm shift toward ‘cultural humility’. That term means that we learn about other people’s cultures from them. If we are serious about dealing with racism and other social roadblocks, then those who are victims of those ‘isms’ should not always have to teach others about their experiences. We must move upstream folks by just doing it, and by stopping creating the land mines of racism.
George Floyd did not die from a heart attack, or undefined causes or ‘at the hands of those unknown’ as recorded on the death certificates for over 5,000 African Americans in this country. But rather, he died under a slow premeditated murder for eight minutes under the flag of lynching in the United States. If our white-controlled educational institutions were honest, they would offer academic courses on Native American genocide and African slavery, along with the same level as focus as given to the Jewish Holocaust. Meanwhile, George Floyd is merely one of the thousands of African Americans who have been unjustly murdered by the white people who practice this duality of justice in American law. This sorely needed conversation is not about assigning ‘white guilt’ or providing appeasement, but about righting the wrongs that are embedded in over 400 years of oppression. We must start by making real changes.
Here are some examples of ‘good faith’ first steps:
1. Removal of any racist public artifacts and statuary that celebrate the Confederacy and white supremacist figures.
2. Retelling the history by the victims of American Democracy so that white supremacists are not teaching our history and our culture from their lying lips.
3. Initiating reparation conversations/dialogues and supporting House Resolution H.Res. 40, which calls for a study of payback for billions of hours of slave labor that made many whites rich in this country.
4. A purge of white privilege jobs and opportunists (including people of color passing as white) from public institutions that deceptively suggest racial diversity within those apartheid systems.
5. Abatement on all taxes on families to color that fall below the new poverty levels.
6. Creation of media opportunities where people of color can learn about their true history and culture instead of the caricatures current everywhere (Aunt Jemima, Washington Redskins, etc.)
7. Enactment of a mandatory ‘sin tax’ on any religious and private institution that can trace its acquired wealth back to the slave trade and slavery. The Catholic Jesuits would find most of their income returned to the descendants because of these sinister dealings. Georgetown University in Washington D.C. has already taken action to begin this dialogue.
8. Abolition of all textbooks and publications that paint Africans (and other people of color) in a degrading slapstick buffoonery manner. Many of the modern “Sambo”-type textbooks currently being used would come under community review.
9. Establishment of long-term tracking systems of students of color who graduate from public educational institutions to measure student success and institutional effectiveness. Omaha Public Schools has one of the highest graduation rates for people of color. However, their employment and graduation rates from post-secondary institutions remain in question.
10. Reevaluation of the whole ‘cradle-to-prison’ pipeline that has created a ‘cottage industry’ whereby law enforcement officials are continuing the oppression of people of color. Further, we must get the police out of the schools because of the tendency to cite, write excessive tickets and foster an intimidating learning environment.
African American author James Baldwin was quoted as saying, “I hear what you are saying, but I see it’s not what you are doing.” We must replace the brainwashing books on ourselves with books by figures such as the French West Indies philosopher Frantz Fanon, who said that ” “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”
In the present historical moment, we well know what is being asked of us to do. We know our “mission”. The only question is whether we will “fulfill it or betray it”?