Monday, June 19th marked the 152nd anniversary of Juneteenth: the day—more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation—when slavery in the United States finally came to an end. But a century and a half later, our country remains crippled by its original sin. Saturday June 17th, after all, marked another anniversary: two years since the Charleston Massacre, when a 21-year-old white supremacist shot and killed Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson—eight black men and women gathered for bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
The truth is that we do not live in a post-racial society; we live in one in which black people are treated differently—and unjustly—by our law enforcement system as well as our individual citizens, a country in which a black man who complies with all of a police officer’s requests during a traffic stop still ends up dead, his murderer acquitted. We live in a country in which it is not safe to drive, worship, or even exist while black, where, in our nation’s capital, nooses are hung in front of museums and schools. As the mother of Philando Castile said after the announcement of Jeronimo Yanez’s acquittal on Friday, “The system in this country continues to fail black people.”
We know that racism was a key factor in why people voted for Trump, stronger even than economic anxiety. As policy analyst Sean McElwee and Professor Jason McDaniel explain in their May 8th article in The Nation, “Trump is both the product, and a further catalyst of, the increasing sorting of parties along racial attitudes.” In the face of this brutal reality, there are steps we can take towards making our country a place that actually deserves the title Land of the Free. These suggested actions are just the beginning; in order to combat the deeply ingrained racism of our nation and our society, we must commit ourselves to consistent and long-term work.
1) Educate Yourself:
As Keisha N. Blain explains in her recent article about racial violence since the Charleston Massacre, “The anniversary of the massacre provides a unique opportunity for us to confront both the unsettling history and current reality of racism and racial violence in the United States. Honoring the memory of those who died at the Emanuel AME Church requires acknowledging the unbreakable ties between past and present, the persistence of racial violence, and the stagnancy of race relations in the United States.” What follows is an incomplete list of recommended reading and viewing—it is meant to be merely a start.
- The Charleston Syllabus, a collection of readings designed to open conversations about the Charleston Massacre and to provide information about the history of racial violence in the United States.
- Literary Hub’s Titles for the Times: Ten Books on Race, Police, and Black Lives Matter.
- Powell’s Books’ Black Lives Matter: Recommended Reading
- Early Bird Books’ 10 Unapologetic Books About Race in America
- 13th, a documentary that examines the criminalization and incarceration of African Americans in our country
2) Speak out:
Don’t pass up opportunities to make change in your immediate circles, and use whatever privilege or platform you have for good. Colleague cracks a racist “joke”? Friend makes an ignorant comment? Resist the urge to walk away. Engage—and try to move the conversation forward rather than to blow up or shut down. Remember, too, that your peers are potential jurors; by speaking up you may well be laying the groundwork to lessen bias in juries while creating advocates for racial equality in multiple spheres. If you are white, acknowledge that the possibility of disengagement is a product of your privilege; recognize that, for centuries, people of color in our country have been forced to live with the pain of constantly being made into targets. If you aren’t sure what to say, check out Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry, a compilation of stories and practical advice compiled by The Southern Poverty Law Center.
3) Show up:
Pay attention to what is happening in your local community and get involved. Show up at rallies and protests. Donate to black-led racial justice organizations. Subscribe to Safety Pin Box. Join a local chapter of Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice, or another racial justice organization.
- From the Black Lives Matter website: “#BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression. We have put our sweat equity and love for Black people into creating a political project—taking the hashtag off of social media and into the streets. The call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation.”
- From the Showing Up for Racial Justice website: “Through community organizing, mobilizing and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability. We work to connect people across the country while supporting and collaborating with local and national racial justice organizing efforts. SURJ provides a space to build relationships, skills and political analysis to act for change. We envision a society where we struggle together with love, for justice, human dignity and a sustainable world.”
- From the Safety Pin Box website: “This subscription box is intended for white people who want to consistently contribute to Black liberation financially while doing measurable support work for the movement and learning what it takes to dismantle white supremacy. Safety Pin Box encourages white people to take initiative in contributing to the movement for Black lives, while getting guidance and educational resources from Black women.”
4) Exercise Your Rights:
- Pay attention to the stances political leaders and candidates take on issues that impact racial justice. As Kirsten Clodfelter writes in Salon, “Research the platforms of local politicians and their records on policy reform for eradicating police violence, including support of body cameras, the creation of training programs to reduce racial profiling, and efforts to get crimes that disproportionately target POC and other marginalized communities off the books. Share your concerns if politicians aren’t taking real strides toward curbing hair-trigger violence and excessive use of force, especially toward POC, and withhold your support and your votes until they do.”
- Take a stand against those states working to make it harder for people of color to vote. Sign this petition for nationwide automatic voter registration.
5) Bear Witness:
In her heroic crown of sonnets, A Wreath for Emmett Till, Marilyn Nelson writes, “we must bear witness to atrocity.” Indeed, bearing witness, though painful, is essential in bringing about change.
- Download the ACLU’s Mobile Justice app so that you are prepared to record police brutality should you witness it. Remember that you have a constitutionally protected right to record police activity, whether as a witness or as a target of law enforcement, as long as you are not interfering. Should an officer ask you to stop recording, calmly remind them that you know your rights and offer to take a step back to demonstrate that you are complying with the spirit of their request.
- When injustices—big or small—occur, don’t look the other way. Write, speak, spread the word. By noticing and calling out racism when it occurs, we can begin to combat it.