When Will It Stop?

Do your part to end Systemic Racism

 

In the year 1921, 100 years ago this weekend, May 31st through June 2nd became days that marked a turning point in the neighborhood of Greenwood, a section of the city of Tulsa, OK. By now, I’m sure (I hope) that you are aware of the horrific toll of death and destruction that the white residents of Tulsa perpetrated against the black residents and business owners of Greenwood.

Many recent print articles, books, documentaries, and radio broadcasts have been created to bring this incredibly vicious attack combining murder, arson, beatings, and looting to light. So, I won’t attempt to add to that. Instead, I want to point out one phrase that has been repeated often in the coverage of this horrendous event. It goes something like this as stated on the NPR program “All Things Considered” of 5/28/21

“The Tulsa Race Massacre was one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history.”

Let’s think about that statement for a second…not “the first” or “the last” or “the one and only”  but “ONE OF THE WORST” incidents of racial violence! This is a statement of comparison. Expanded it might read, “of the many incidents of racial violence in the U.S. against black folk carried out by white folk, the Tulsa Massacre ranks as one of the worst when compared with numerous similar incidents before or after this date in 1921.”

I bring the above consideration to your attention with the hope that you will allow yourself more than a few minutes to ponder the question, 

“WHEN WILL IT STOP”????

When will hate-filled incidents stop being a mainstay of our culture? Some are startling in their size, scope, and duration. Other events are the daily minutiae of discrimination. The claim that racism is not a deep-rooted, all-encompassing part of our society, is to deny the following:

  • the harassment and killing of black men because we assume they’re up to no good
  •  on-going voter suppression
  • “redlining”
  • the deliberate placement of toxic industries adjacent to minority neighborhoods
  • underfunded urban schools
  • rampant health care disparities between the poor and the affluent
  • the many causes of mass incarceration

The issues listed are just in the past 100 years! As if this long list wasn’t bad enough, we continue government-led destruction of poor, minority neighborhoods. We just cloak the devastation in the shroud of highway construction and “urban renewal.”

How much longer do African American communities in our country have to wait for this to end before we take real, sustainable action???

Not coming to terms with the fact that racism permeates our society, from our daily thoughts to government policies, will prevent us from replying

“today…it will stop today, even if it just stops with me.”

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Take Action. Speak Up.

Sculpture by Tara Springer, Graduate sculpture student at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Image curtesy of
Sculpture by Tara Springer, Graduate sculpture student at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University. Image courtesy of Streets Dept

 

Writer’s Note: Before we can go about the business of social change in our country, we need to know and accept fully that our American society is based on racism.  Racist attitudes and actions by white people against Black, Brown, Asian and Indigenous people continue to be systemic in every social structure, and every organization, governmental or private. Racism is present in the full light of day in the actions of many white citizens of our country. And, as much as we hate to admit it, racist thoughts lurk in the minds of the majority of every other white person in America, including myself. Although we know how difficult it will be to actively combat this racism, especially in our own minds, we must be diligent and vigilant. Our efforts will not be perfect. I/we will make mistakes. But, we must learn from those mistakes and then move forward again in faith that our efforts are just.

Race Relations and the Color Divide

About a decade ago, I began thinking of race from the point of view of an artist. Here’s why. Artists often compose with color in their work. They understand that white is a color just like every other color including every version of black, red, brown and yellow. As artists apply it, white isn’t invisible, it’s not a lack of color, it’s not a section in a composition that is unnoticed or forgotten. If we extend this thought, we also notice that, although white is not the same as the other colors, it is not any more or less valued in a composition. It shares in the development of the artwork, sometimes moving to the fore, sometimes into the background, sometimes absent altogether. “White” is not one color, it has many shades: ecru, off white, eggshell, bright white, etc.

Let’s agree that using white is a choice that an artist makes when, in their mind, the composition requires it. White, like any other color, can be symbolic in the hands of an artist. Like any other color, it can be used to convey meaning. But, using white in a composition can also be devoid of symbolism; political or religious opinions, or emotion. Because I’m an artist, I know that sometimes, the choice of using a color in a composition is completely devoid of any extraneous thought altogether. It may simply be a reaction to what I see in front of me or in my mind as being appropriate.

From those thoughts, I arrived at the phrase to describe a human as being, “a color other than white” instead of a “person of color.”

Thoughts of “the Other”

The reason that I have an issue with the phrase, “a person of color,” is that the phrase still reeks of division and the comparisons that have led us to the untenable situation we find ourselves in now. The phrase still perpetuates the concept of the “other.” Looking at and thinking of someone as the “other” is the slippery slope that allows us to add additional attributes to that “other.” Attributes such as, “they aren’t as smart as me, they aren’t as honest as me, they aren’t as successful as me, they don’t deserve to have what I have, I don’t need to respect them as much (or at all!) as people who look like me, they don’t share my values”, and on and on…. All of these false attributes that we stick on the “other” inevitably lead to, “I’m afraid of them.” Thinking of someone as the “other” also allows us to think of our fellow humans as beneath us. It allows us to devalue them. It allows us to not bother learning about them. Worst of all, it gives us an excuse to disrespect them.

A Chance for Change

The point of this phrase, “a color other than white” is to understand that although we may seem different in many ways from someone else, deep down we are all the same. I don’t mean just in our bodily structure and functions. I mean that we all need and want the same things. We want ourselves and our families to be safe which includes living in a safe place and the freedom to move about without fear. We want to feel happy most of the time. This includes being well-fed and in good health. We want the best for those around us including the best education possible and engaging, well-paid work that leaves us feeling good about our contributions.

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