Last night I went to bed with the news of no justice or accountability in the Breonna Taylor case. Few of us were surprised, but that doesn’t make it any easier to process, unless we decide to become numb with indifference, and I’m not there yet. Instead, I’m trying to acknowledge the pain I feel, and decide what I want to do with it. With a day full of meetings, all of them with leaders doing the heroic work of advancing educational justice in their communities across this country, I wanted to find some way to began to process once again where am I and what I think this means for us and our work. So of course, I began to write this morning.
What would it look like to actually create a more perfect union, to ensure that we actually live up to the ideals of our country’s origin? This is the actual promissory note that Dr. King came to cash in 1963 at the famous march on Washington for Freedom and Jobs. They weren’t looking for some kind of feel good moment to placate white feelings (Wild fact, apparently 75% of the country was opposed to the kind of “radical” economic and social justice reforms Dr. King advocated for by the time of his death). They were looking to hold our nation accountable for its deeply exposed fault lines. So, where did they begin and how should we pick up where they left off?
First, wouldn’t we have to start by acknowledging the imperfections that currently still exist? The fact that we have a racial hierarchy built into the fabric of our society since the beginning, one that has doled out privileges and oppressions that we’ve only acknowledged when forced to do so. Yes, it’s time to call out (again) the mere existence of what everyone knows to be reality: that America has never valued or treated all people equally. Plainly put, a culture where white means right, does no favors to white people who’ve developed a falsely inflated sense of superiority, and it damn sure doesn’t help the black and brown folks who’ve borne the brunt of it.
Second, we’ve got to commit to righting wrongs. Wes Moore in his book Five Days writes, our collective pursuit of justice must be as aggressive and intentional as the systemwide injustice that we now encounter. Where do we begin? Those with privilege and power have to actually be willing to challenge their complicity in maintaining the status quo of structural and systemic racism.
The more I witness the same things happening over and over again, black lives dehumanized and then society at large having the audacity to critique how our community expresses its pain, I’m reminded of the fact that we’ve been here before. More and more I’m convinced that we know what to do to make progress, some of us just don’t want to do it. Progress happens in fits and starts anyway. Reconstruction begat Jim Crow, the victories of the civil rights movement gave rise to modern day conservatism, the election of our first black president sparked a white backlash. Those of us ready for change must continue laying the groundwork for change.
To my black brothers and sisters, I just want to remind us of the words of Austin Channing Brown from her book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness:
At no point in American history did all white people come together to correct racial injustice. At no point did all white people decide chattel slavery should end. At no point did all white people decide we should listen to the freedom fighters, end segregation, and enact the right of Black Americans to vote. At no point have all white people gotten together and agreed to the equitable treatment of Black people. And yet, there has been change over time, over generations, over history. The march toward change has been grueling, but it is real. And all it has ever taken was the transformed, the people of color confronting past and present to imagine a new future, and the handful of white people willing to release indifference to join the struggle.