It has been too long since we last talked. How are you doing? I know you have been struggling with finding yourself, believe me, but can I offer you some advice that I wish was given to me earlier? Try not to ruminate on your personal problems. Get out of your own head. Extend your focus to cultures that face daily societal and economic obstacles and educate yourself. An excellent place to start is Stamped, co-authored by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, which offers an accessible yet informative introduction to the roots of racism in the United States to change our present. As was eloquently said by the authors, “To know the past is to know the present. To know the present is to know yourself.” Offered below are the main points you should take into consideration.
There are no exemptions from holding racist ideas.
In layman’s terms, a racist idea is any thought or belief that certain racial groups are right or wrong, superior or inferior or better or worse than another. Because these racist ideas have poisoned the very foundation of our society, no one is impervious to them — not Black people, not super friendly people, especially not you — but you have to be vigilant against them. Understandably, I know you are probably trying to object, but listen. You can have Black family and still have racist ideas. You can be so poor that your single mom has to put aside her pride to ask your dad and his wife to help out because she cannot afford food for dinner and you can be technically homeless, living with your extended family, and still have white privilege.
The only way to grow and lead an anti-racist life is to acknowledge that you have racist ideas. If you fail to do this, you are complacent in the injustice of this nation, and you are as bad as the perpetrators and the oppressors.
Recognize, know and understand racism.
Although you may be familiar with the concept of racism, and you can probably recognize its explicit presentations, you do not truly know it, let alone understand it. There is no singular definition or model for “what’s racist.” It is a misconception that racism is a lifeless and permanent thing; in actuality, it is a dynamic and complex pseudo-parasite that evolves and can infect us all. As Reynolds explains, to attack racism, we must do it collectively, but we must first educate ourselves about its roots, structure, how it changes and what it has produced. Some of the products of racism are the disparities in the criminal justice system and police brutality.
The prison population is predominantly composed of Black people, even though they only compose 13% of the U.S.’s population and Black and white individuals have equal crime rates. It’s not a coincidence that most of them are serving maximum punishments for mild and moderate drug crimes, a product of Reagan’s presidency, which declared a “War on Drugs” in his first term. Upping the ante in his second term, he passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which disproportionately targeted predominantly poor and Black individuals. For the same five-year sentence, a Black or poor user just had to be caught with 1% of the drugs of a rich or white user: the equivalent of a quarter-sized amount of drugs versus a brick of drugs. To add the icing to the racist cake, once the individuals had served their prison sentence, they were stripped of their voting rights and were often unable to find a job to adequately support themselves. Not only this, but those upholding the racist laws, the police, are more likely to use excessive force toward a person of color than other racial groups. A Black person, especially a Black man, is 21 times more likely to be killed in interactions with the police.
The years ahead of you will mark a historic shift in societal awareness of the racial injustices still plaguing America due to advancements and accessibility of technology. With every year that will pass, you will be exposed to a rising number of graphic and tragic images and videos displaying the murders of Black people at the hands of racists. These stories, although difficult and discouraging, must never be eradicated from our memory; these cases are the fires that will stoke the movement — an anti-racist revolution — against prejudice and racist ideas.
Friend, use your anger to help fight the injustice. Use it when the judicial system fails to ever charge the murderers or when the only punishment is administrative duty. Use it when the media manipulates the narrative of a young Black child being murdered to one about the police officer claiming self-defense.
It may seem like the future is dismal, but remember, you are fighting for a better world, one where we are all given the same opportunities. Where the color of one’s skin is not weaponized…No justice, no peace.
By Alissa Meo, Contributor