America is in the midst of a social justice and racial reckoning.
After the video of George Floyd being suffocated to death under the knee of a white police officer went viral, it seemed as if the country exploded into a state of heighted racial awareness. Protests were organized around the country (and around the world); calls to defund and completely overhaul the policing system were rampant; companies rushed to issue statements in support of Black Lives Matter; anti-racism books flew off the shelves and demand for diversity, equity and inclusion training was at an all-time high.
It appeared as if white America had finally opened its eyes to the validity and existence of systemic racism and discrimination that has plagued Black and brown people for centuries and what’s more, they were outraged and wanted change. They were committed to doing the work and were taking specific action.
All of this was much-needed and long overdue, to be honest. Black and brown people have been decrying the uneven hands of “justice” and the disparities in how Black lives are “valued” and treated at the hands of police and a system meant to protect them for years. Black Lives Matter was more than a hashtag. It was a rallying cry from a people who were tired of being victims of the very system meant to protect them. It was a call to action and a demand for accountability.
Twelve years after the first Black Lives Matter hashtag emerged after the death of Trayvon Martin, we arrived at George Floyd. Even though there were countless other Black lives snuffed out violently at the hands of police in between, George Floyd was different. This wasn’t a shooting. This couldn’t be explained away by questions of whether he should have complied or a debate about his prior record. This wasn’t excused because we couldn’t see what happened before the video showing his murder at the hands (or knee) of police. This was laid bare for all to see and witness first hand the anguish, suffering and unjustified murder of a Black man for an offense that was laughable and which turned out to be untrue.
Now that white America is finally ready to open its eyes to the injustice, discrimination and systemic racism that Black people have lived with for centuries and actually take action to rectify some of the wrongs, the White House issues a ban on anti-racism and racial sensitivity diversity training because it is “divisive” and “un-American”. (See article here https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54038888)
So if we’re to understand this correctly, giving a historical account of the racist practices against brown and Black people is “divisive”. Educating white people about their implicit bias, inherent privilege and opening their eyes as to how all of this plays a role in systematically targeting Black people is somehow “un-American”.
When did being anti-racist become synonymous with being “un-American”?
By that rationale, being racist is now American? Is that the new meaning of patriotism?
What other reason can there be for the White House to outright ban these discussions and cancel contracts for any companies providing this type of training? Wouldn’t a unified America be best? And in unifying America, doesn’t that include developing common ground and creating an inclusive culture and community?
What’s most dangerous about this isn’t just that it was a knee-jerk reaction to a half-baked news story that focused on a few comments taken out of the context from an anti-racism training that talked about white privilege–but that the very reaction to this issue speaks volumes about the need for this type of training. What’s more, what message does this send to companies and organizations that have taken up the mantle to take action in creating more diverse, equitable and inclusive communities and culture within their own organizations? What does this say to those who have been slow to act because they don’t see the “business case” for diversity? How much ammunition does this provide to those who feel as if they’re being unfairly “attacked” for being white and privileged?
Change is a process that begins with an event.
We can’t begin the process if we refuse to acknowledge the need for change and if we default to shutting down the dialogue before it even begins.