I am not one to jump into a political conversation on Twitter, or share articles on Facebook just to get a reaction. I use social media mainly to share about the lighter side of my life, what food I’m cooking, where my husband and I are traveling, I don’t delve into serious topics. Most of that is because “social media” is part of my job every day and I see both it’s goodness and utility as well as the raw, nasty, dark side of things and by the time I take off the “professional social media” hat I don’t have much creativity or bandwidth to come up with something more to share than the stereotypical “here’s what I made for dinner” post.
For the last month though, I’ve been quieter than normal. Since the death of George Floyd became the last straw for so many facing racial and social injustice in this country, sparking nationwide protests against racism in America, I just haven’t known what to say. As someone coming from a place of privilege (white, straight, cisgender, wealthy woman working in technology and higher education) I couldn’t think of anything to contribute that hadn’t already been said more articulately by someone else with more and better experience, so I’ve stayed silent. And I shouldn’t have.
What’s going on in the world right now is not ok, it never has been. What’s happening right now is not new. The racial injustice that has permeated this country for over 400 years was not “fixed” by the election of our first Black president. Just because we cannot see how systems that have been in place for dozens or hundreds of years have been systematically biased against non-white people doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
Black lives matter. And that doesn’t mean that Black lives matter more than anyone else’s, it means that right now, Black lives are in more danger, under more threat. This comic helps explain this point.
My father was a state police officer for 25 years and I am so proud of him and the work he did to keep people safe. I have an immense respect for police officers, firefighters and other first responders who come to the aid of people in need. They put their safety on the line every day to protect others. But that’s the key - protect. Kneeling on someone’s neck while ignoring their pleas for air, for simply using a counterfeit $20 bill is not protecting anyone. It’s taking advantage of power that was entrusted to them in order to protect and serve the community and using it as a vehicle of racism and hatred. And no, not all police officers are bad, but it’s not just “a few bad apples” either, there are parts of our justice system that are fundamentally flawed. Statistics show that Black people are disproportionately arrested and killed by law enforcement relative to their portion of the U.S. population. So unless you’re saying someone’s skin color makes them more predisposed to delinquence (and if you are, gotta break it to you, you’re being racist), you need to look at the system itself.
When I first heard “defund the police” I thought, “that’s ridiculous, how would we enforce the law?” and maybe that catchphrase could be worded more clearly. But instead of just reading the headline and dismissing it, I took the time to learn what is actually meant by the phrase: to reevaluate the current law enforcement system and start fresh utilizing a wider breadth of services already offered by other public agencies like social services. This framework still involves having police officers, but it starts to break down and address the system where someone who falls asleep in a McDonald’s drive through is not met with the same person who would respond to a robbery call at that same McDonald’s. It also looks to address the root causes of crime, such as poverty, addiction and homelessness.
I’ve always been one who loves tradition and history, but there comes a point when you have to acknowledge that the current environment is not working, and is not equitable, and “that’s the way it’s always been” is not a reason for it to stay that way. For as much as we’d like to believe that in America everyone has the same opportunities if they just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and work hard, that’s just not the case. The deck is stacked in favor of those in power, for hundreds of years that has been white folks, and white men more specifically. Steps have been made to even out that playing field but we are not there yet, and we have a long way to go.
W&M President Katherine A. Rowe has said that “we change to advance what we value most” and right now that change may not be comfortable (in fact, it should be uncomfortable), and will necessitate intense self-reflection and evaluation (and sometimes what you see makes you realize, even subconsciously and unintentionally, you are helping perpetuate racism). But if we value every person equally the way that we say we do, the way that Christianity and many other religions teach us to, then something has to change - and now is the best time to start.
So whether it’s donating money (I started with giving to charities whose missions I believe can help enact this change), volunteering, protesting, writing your politial representatives, voting in every election at every level, running for office yourself…let’s be the change we want to see.