The year 2020 has been a stressful one. With George Floyd's death as an inflection point about race and racism in America, an unprecedented presidential election and social unrest during an ongoing pandemic with a rising death toll, something is deeply broken in the United States' body politic.
This country has been divided and broken before, with dividing events such as The American Civil War and the 1960s civil-rights movement. However, is America so broken now we can't turn back? Do we want to turn back? The daunting question as we approach 2021 is "Where do we go from here?," invoking the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We have revisited this question several times in U.S. history, resisting the work and change needed to be doneindividually, collectively and systematically.
The long, hot summer of 1967 was when King wrote the book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? It was King's fourth and final tome, released before his assassination a year later. King wrote the book because, in the summer of 1967, there were 159 race riots across the country. America was a tinderbox. Many wondered with the rage and frustrations of young Black America if the government could extinguish the conflagration. Sadly, what caught the nation's attention was not the protesters' plight but rather the violence."Everyone is worrying about the long hot summer with its threat of riots. We had a long cold winter when little was done about the conditions that create riots," King stated that summer at a luncheon in his honor. The riots were public cries for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, quality education, healthcare, voting rights and the endings of mass incarceration and police brutality. In other words, it was a clarion call to end systemic racism.
However, the more things appear to change on the surface for people of color through the years, the more they remain the same systemically. This year proved it. Consequently, between May 26 and Aug. 22, there were "[more than] 7,750 demonstrations linked to the BLM [Black Lives Matter] movement across more than 2,440 locations in all 50 states and Washington, DC." The protestors consisted of not only Blacks but the entire face of America from all walks of life. Ninety-five percent of the protests were non-violent. This year's demonstrations were the same as 1967: the public cry for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, quality education, healthcare, voting rights, and the endings of mass incarceration and police brutality. This time, however, the clarion call is to end systemic racism, now!
In "order to know "where do we go from here", we must honestly look at where we are now. And it doesn't excuse those who think they are on the right side of justice. While many whites would not think of themselves as racist, the distinction must be recognized that being "anti-racist" differs from simply not being racist.
White supremacy is an ideology and belief system. It is not the province of solely white people; there are Black white supremacists, too; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Dr. Ben Carson are examples. They uphold a white heteronormative and nationalist government that has had power-shaping policy impacting us allLGBTQs, women and people of color, to name a few.
White supremacy is in the DNA of America. Clinging to it for as long as America has is precisely where we are today as a broken nation. The question "where do we go from here" means America's race problem has not been addressed. While the COVID vaccine will eventually stop the spread of the pandemic, sadly, the pandemic of racism will persist. Americans cannot be blamed for the misinformation we have been taught and have absorbed from our society and culture. However, we must be held responsible for repeating misinformation, unexamined racism, and privileges in ourselves after we have learned otherwise.
The death of George Floyd, a cisgender male, symbolizes the new face of anti-Black violence, as Matthew Shepard's face came to symbolize homophobic violence after his murder in 1998. His death forces us to look at what's broken in America as well as ourselves. However, his death can be an opportunity for reconciliation and healing, recognizing our shared humanity. It starts by calling out and addressing racistswhether well-intentioned white liberals or ill-intentioned white nationalistsbecause both erase our lived reality of a multiracial society.
In other words, white supremacy and white privilege must not be thought of as outside of oneself. Rather, it must be assumed. With that assumption, democracy can fully begin for those on the margin to experience what others take for granted.
Otherwise, we won't be united as a country and will remain divided.