Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash.
Over the past few months, our world has been forever altered by COVID-19, a virus that has taken lives and liberties from us all. And yet during a time when the world has largely stood still, there has been another virus still ravaging through our nation: one of systemic racism, which runs longer than the Mississippi River and is intertwined into the fabric of our foundation. We see the burning streets shown on repeat in news clips covering protests across the US over the death of George Floyd, and in Baltimore we have the muscle memory of Freddie Gray in 2015.
We do not need to return to normal.
By now, we have all received similar messages in our inboxes, from our banks to our smoothie shops, stating “We stand in solidarity with Black communities everywhere.” Companies want to be visibly on the right side of history, and people do, too. But what happens the day after, the week after, the month after, and so on? We seem to be passionately heated in the moment, but are failing to move the needle on this cause. As the list of hashtags grows longer and we become desensitized to videos of police brutality, it is difficult to have hope.
Activist and lecturer Rachel Cargle asked, “How will you show up in this time of human history?” during her public address on revolution Saturday. “We are at the tipping point,” she said.
Her three-prong approach to revolution includes critical knowledge, radical empathy, and intentional action. This essay explores each category with a breakdown of actionable steps we can immediately take today to impact our tomorrow. This is not an all-inclusive list, but it is a place to start.
Critical knowledge is defined as doing the work to pull our intel from credible sources and gain a better understanding of what is happening and where it stems from. Additionally, we should seek out, hear and affirm voices of color. Here are some foundational pieces to consider:
- Learn about the year 1619. The 1619 Podcast from The New York Times is an audio series, hosted by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, on how slavery has transformed America, connecting past and present through the oldest form of storytelling.
- Find the loopholes in the 13th Amendment. In the thought-provoking documentary 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay, scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom. The documentary notes: “We now have more African Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves back in the 1850s.” As a follow up, add DuVernay’s web television miniseries When They See Us to your Netflix list.
- Seek quality sources. Rachel Cargle has a list of resources covering topics such as, “Stop Saying All Lives Matter,” and an employer accountability handbook. Additionally, essays like “The Case for Reparations” by Baltimore author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, and articles like “Redlining was banned 50 years ago. It’s still hurting minorities today,” by Tracy Jan, connect our history to our all-too-common present circumstances.
- Gain perspective from authors of color. Here are some books worth reading: “So You Want To Talk About Race?” by Ijeoma Olou, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Letter From Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr., “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, “How to Be Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” and” The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. In fiction, check out “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi, “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, and “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng.
- Diversify social media streams. Follow voices of color, starting with these thought leaders: Activist and writer Brittany Packnett; author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates; director Ava DuVernay; Author and Educator Tressie McMillan Cottom; Baltimore author R. Eric Thomas; and filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry.
Radical empathy is described as moving past the basic level of empathy that is expressed as, “I feel you.” We must hold ourselves accountable to the role we play in the bigger system of systemic racism.
- Understand empathy. Before we can have radical empathy, we must first have an understanding of what empathy is. Researcher and storyteller Brené Brown’s name is synonymous with understanding empathy. In this video, she creatively describes its four core qualities.
- Be an ally and call out racism. This is something we can do in person, and especially when we see racism and misinformation on social media. When possible, let’s take conversations offline with family members and friends in our immediate circles. For resources on social media regarding how to do the work, consider joining The Discomfort Club or Reparations: Requests and Offerings.
- Have self awareness and introspection. Read “Me and My White Supremacy,” by Layla F. Saad. There is also an accompanying workbook. According to Saad, this is not a book that you read, this is a book that you do. We must be willing to reflect and take part in an inner dialogue with ourselves.
- Don’t connect with this issue philosophically, connect with it personally. This is important for navigating professional environments during these times. Writer Shenequa Golding talks openly about this in her essay “Maintaining Professionalism In The Age of Black Death Is….A Lot,” where she states, “I don’t know who decided that being professional was loosely defined as being divorced of total humanity, but whoever did, they’ve aided, unintentionally maybe, in a unique form of suffocation.”
Cargle says, “We all exist with various levels of access, privilege and platforms. We must hold ourselves and our communities accountable.” This is not a short-term game, but here’s a short list of how to have a real impact on the front line:
- Bail people out. Job Opportunities Task Force has a newly created Community Bail Fund that you can donate to (when filling out the donation form, select “Community Bail Fund” under “Cause You Care About”). JOTF works to eliminate educational and employment barriers for low-wage workers by transforming the systems and policies that create and perpetuate those barriers.
- Vote for people who are anti-racist. Former president Barack Obama emphasized in his recent Medium essay on effecting real change that “… the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.” Historically, participation in these elections is always low. For Maryland, the State Board of Elections has the most up to date information on upcoming elections and how voting has changed amid COVID-19.
- Make decisions with your wallet. Make it a priority to do business with minority owned companies and entities that are strengthening communities and causes that support equity and inclusion. Now is the time to be a conscious consumer. Do your own research, but some of my favorite black owned businesses in Baltimore include KSM Candle Co, Mess in A Bottle, Treason Toting Co, Koba Cafe, Teavolve, and Water for Chocolate.
- Be open to honest conversations. When we have the opportunity to talk candidly and go deeper on topics surrounding racism in America, it’s important to be an active listener. Active listening involves more than just hearing someone speak. When practiced, we are fully concentrating on what is being said, in a way that is nonjudgmental, patient, and without a hidden agenda.
“This is not a new problem. This is America,” author Ijeoma Oluo says. How can we use our resources and reach to be a part of the solution? May we realize, now more than ever, that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, the ones who must rise up and take action. Now is the time for change. Lives are depending on it.-30-
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