Is It Time to 'Topple' the System? Big Ideas From the OZY Town Hall on A&E - OZY | A Modern Media Company
A young boy raises his fist during a demonstration in Atlanta, Georgia.
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because this is the time for big ideas.

By Daniel Malloy

The nationwide unrest over the past two weeks in the wake of George Floyd’s killing have thrust a racial reckoning on America that requires frank conversations. And in The Time Is Now: Race and Resolution, a town hall special hosted by OZY Editor-in-Chief Carlos Watson that aired across A&E networks Monday night, emotions at times ran high as many participants grappled with the big questions of how America must change to fight systemic racism.

Ray Johnson, a former police officer from Chicago, condemned the actions of the Minneapolis police officers at the scene with Floyd but said he couldn’t necessarily diagnose racism from a video. “Let’s say an African American person kills a white person. I don’t just immediately assume that it’s a racial thing.”

That set Amanda Seales off. “You are literally comparing a regular person and a regular person to a literal police institution that was built off of the backs of overseers and people finding slaves,” said the actress, comedian and activist. “So it was created within the context of racism, just like America was created within the context of racism.”

It’s time, she said, for a paradigm shift.

“It’s like Jenga,” Seales said. “You’ve got to stop moving the pieces from the top. That’s what has to happen. You got to move the pieces from the bottom. You know why? So we can topple.”

It was a response that represented many of the big solutions the panelists and audience members — from a wide cross section of race, age and life experience — brought to bear on a problem that does not generate easy answers.

“Defund police” has become a rallying cry on the streets, and even a stated policy for a supermajority of the Minneapolis City Council, who say they want to disband the department. But Tamika Mallory, an activist who was a force behind the Women’s March in 2017, said that’s only the start. “We’re talking about rooting out white supremacy and racism across the system — and that’s not just in police departments. It’s also in the courts.”

And it’s in our homes.

Heather Riggins said her three daughters in Colorado “don’t see color” and so it’s hard for her to explain to them what’s going on around the country. Jemele Hill, formerly of ESPN and now with The Atlantic, replied that that’s the problem. “You want them to see color — you just don’t want them to be racist. That’s a totally different thing,” Hill said. “You want them to appreciate the beauty and the nuance in other cultures. … When you say, ‘I don’t see color,’ you also make people of color invisible at the same time.” Riggins thanked Hill for the perspective, adding that she has a lot to learn.

For many, it went back to education, for white Americans in particular, to learn more about the history of slavery and racial oppression, the kinds of things often left out of textbooks.

And for Eeda Charbomneau, there was a simple, aggressive solution: “Racism should be illegal — period. There should be a punishment for racism. That’s the only way you stop people from acting out in such a selfish way. You know, people don’t change their minds unless they have to.”

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