Taking Local Action Against Racism
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because addressing race relations begins at home.
By Nick Fouriezos
OZY’s exclusive town hall television show in partnership with HISTORY, The Time Is Now: Race and Resolution, is now available to stream online here.
- The fight against racism starts at the individual level, with having a new kind of “talk” with children — about the need for change.
- Local elected leaders make the biggest difference in the justice system, so engage there.
- Move from being not racist yourself to actively challenging racism.
What can be done? It’s the question that’s been on so many lips across the country the past few weeks. The moment seems ripe for change, as people across social, cultural, and even political divides unite around a common concern about racism and policing in America. There has been “an eruption of consciousness,” as comedian and activist Amanda Seales put it in on The Time Is Now: Race and Resolution, hosted by OZY Editor-in-Chief Carlos Watson. “As you know with a volcano,” she said, “when it erupts, it forever changes everything it touches.”
But meaningful change won’t happen until it seeps into every nook and cranny of society. And that can’t happen if the only change happens in big cities or in the federal government. That’s what Johnny Williams, a 34-year-old master’s student from northern Virginia, worried about, asking if any of the town hall panelists or audience members had written to their member of Congress in support of bills such as the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. “If you did not do that, and you are of age, then you are hypocritical. This is a very hypocritical conversation.”
My call to [other] white people is that we make Black liberation a part of our daily lives.
Matt McGorry, actor and activist
As for those begging for a blueprint to address race relations? “With all due respect, there already is a blueprint,” Williams said, and indeed, that blueprint begins in local communities and cannot end in online conversations. Here are just a few examples of ways that ordinary people can get involved in extraordinary ways.
Have the ‘Race Talk,’ But Differently
For too long, Black parents have had to shoulder the burden of warning their children — young Black men in particular — to be extra careful when dealing with police. But a new conversation needs to be created: one around actively dismantling the system that makes “the talk” necessary in the first place. That was the perspective of Jamal Thompson, a Black man whose 17-year-old son, Jalen, organized a protest in their town of O’Fallon, Missouri, that ended up including more than 2,000 people.
“I feel like I have failed, like I’ve dropped the ball,” Thompson said. “When talking about police brutality, instead of just saying to him things like, ‘Keep your hands on the dashboard, don’t make any sudden movements,’ I should have been more effective in trying to change the things in the community, so he wouldn’t have to go through the same things I did.”
Others must have the race talk too. Audience member Heather Riggins mentioned that her children “don’t see color” — a well-intended objective, perhaps, but ultimately one that misses the mark, said Jemele Hill, a reporter on race, sports and other topics at The Atlantic. “You want them to see color … You want them to appreciate the beauty and nuance of other cultures, and understand why they are different.” We can all teach each other the nuances of race, and also the challenges that American culture imposes on people of color.
Don’t feel equipped to give the talk off the top of your head? There are ample resources. You can start kids young with Ibram X. Kendi’s board book Antiracist Baby and watch “Mixed: A Colorful Story” on YouTube. Older kids can check out these chapter book biographies of nonwhite history-makers,
Join Police Boards and Hold District Attorneys Accountable
When jogger Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot by two white men in Georgia in February, the case almost didn’t see the light of day after the local district attorney found no “grounds for an arrest.” This despite the fact that his killers had stalked Arbery, cornered him while he was jogging and, ultimately, gunned him down in the middle of the street — in what on video appears to be a modern lynching.
The presidential election in 2020 will be critical. But local elections also matter, and, in regard to police brutality and criminal justice reform, voting in district attorney races can be crucial to making sure justice is served in cases like these. As Hill noted, many community police boards are manned by local residents, meaning that ordinary people can get involved directly in holding authorities accountable. “A lot of things happen right underneath your nose,” Hill said, and it’s each of our responsibilities to make sure injustices aren’t allowed to mount unchecked.
Let ‘I’m Not a Racist’ Become ‘I Am Anti-Racist’
Racism is not just a problem for the Black community. People of color are often its target, but the job of fighting it, of naming it, of reshaping hearts and minds, begins with white people and with those in power. “My call to [other] white people is that we make Black liberation a part of our daily lives. Unless we do that, these things will just keep on continuing and we can’t be surprised by them,” said Matt McGorry, an actor and activist who played a guard on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. That job inevitably means not being a passive observer of racist institutions and individuals — “I am not racist” — but instead actively fighting against those forces. In essence, being anti-racist in visible ways.
Rethink Your Friend Circle
We’re not talking about your Facebook friend list here: Think hard about who you communicate with and see regularly. How many of those people share your skin tone? Odds are, the vast majority do. Research shows that 91 percent of white Americans’ social circles are white, while 83 percent of Black Americans’ social circles are Black.
Finding new friends can be tricky, of course. But bonding through shared interests can happen with people of any race if you’re making an effort.
Also, if you’re not Black and you have a Black friend with whom you aren’t particularly close, don’t text them out of the blue to ask them if they’re doing OK with all that’s going on. It’s getting annoying to many.