I am marveling at how much things can change in a week. Just over a week ago, I was preparing to write this note about celebrating PRIDE month in the midst of a pandemic and honoring fathers and father figures for Father’s Day. Both things are still featured in our newsletter this month and are absolutely worthy of attention. However, our Twin Cities community and the nation as a whole is once again grappling with the horror of police brutality and violence against black and brown people, revealing once again the legacy of racism, discrimination, and systemic oppression that has robbed black and brown communities of human rights, physical and emotional safety, education, health, and social, economic, and political power and capital for centuries.
I live three blocks away from where George Floyd was murdered, and like so many of us, I spent the first part of last week feeling despair, anger, hopelessness, and helplessness. Why does this keep happening? Why have we not learned how to be better as a society? I struggled to consider what my part should be in responding to this violence that happened practically in my backyard. And in the past few days, I’ve had several reflections and learnings that I’d like to share with you.
- The horrific police violence that resulted in George’s Floyd’s tragic murder is not new, not different, and not worse than any of the other historic and present-day incidences of police brutality against black and brown people. This level of threat and violence towards brown-skinned people has always existed and not just from police officers (Case in point – Ahmaud Arbery’s killing.)
- Racism, xenophobia, and race-based violence are real and have affected me personally as an Asian American person of color. AND our discussions about equity, justice, and anti-racism must stay focused on anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism because of how this racism functions in our society to dehumanize, degrade, and erase Black/African American and Indigenous people both as individuals and as a community.
- I am continually humbled by the incredible resilience, resistance, and strength of the Black/African American community. I also need to center their grief, fear, anger, frustration, and voices and not make it about myself and how stressed, tired, scared, or sad I am. This is not about me as a non-Black person of color, and this is not about my White neighbors who are scared that their home might burn down.
- I fear that in the midst of discussions about the “right way to protest” and the destruction of our cities both here in Minnesota and across the country, we are losing sight of the problem – the very real, pervasive, insidious white supremacy that is a fabric of our daily lives and that non-Black and non-Indigenous people like me (as a non-Black person of color) are complicit in perpetuating. (As well as the internalized racism of black, brown, and indigenous people that divides those communities.)
- And when we just respond by donating food and money, going to protests and marches, participating in clean-up efforts, and posting outraged comments, blogs, and articles on social media, it becomes easy to pat ourselves on our backs and say, “See, I’m not racist. I did something about the problem.” And then life returns to normal for us non-Black people, and we forget that there is a problem until another George Floyd murder happens (and it will). I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be doing those things. We absolutely need to do all of those things. But those are band-aids trying to cover the gaping wound of centuries of systemic racism and oppression.
- So what can we DO now and in the future to stop the deaths of black and brown community members from the violent acts of racism like police brutality as well as from slower killers like COVID-19 and other diseases that disproportionately affect Black/African American and Indigenous communities?
This is where I got stuck in hopelessness and helplessness. But then I realized that the one thing I CAN do to make a difference for the future is to talk to my own children about race, racism, and discrimination. And to share resources with you on how to do the same.
This is what AMAZEworks and Anti-Bias Education are all about. Research shows that having as few as five explicit conversations about race and other differences lower bias levels in children. Discussing race and racism with children from a very young age in age-appropriate ways helps us do our own internal work to reflect on and dismantle the daily ways we perpetuate white supremacy. It teaches our children that they have a role to play in perpetuating a racist society as well as agency in dismantling it. And it gives them tools to hold us as adults accountable when we do or say things that perpetuate racism, ensuring that we continue to do our own work.
So when the chaos dies down and the protesting subsides, the work must continue, and we each have to do our part. In the past week, many of us have stood up against the injustice of George Floyd’s killing and racial oppression, and we can’t just sit back down again. We must imagine there is a needle in a pincushion on our seats so that every time we try to sit down, we jump right back up and continue the hard work.
Keep asking yourselves – how am I regularly engaging in tough conversations about race, racism, and racial violence and oppression with myself, others, and the children I love? To that end, we have put together some FREE resources to help caregivers navigate difficult conversations with their children on race, racism, and discrimination. You can download the lessons from our website and purchase the set of corresponding books from our new web store, if you don’t have them already.
At AMAZEworks, we talk often that change happens from the edge of the inside. It’s a long game that can start with one conversation at a time. Together, let’s keep pushing against that edge and remember that it starts with ourselves first.
Image credit: Freelance designer Shirien Damra’s tribute to George Floyd has more than 3.4 million likes on Instagram. (Shirien Damra)