This piece is the second guest piece I have had the privilege of publishing. It is written by Justin Chen, my roommate while I was studying abroad at Juniata College in the United States.
The piece has been lightly edited for grammatical changes, but the ideas and arguments are all Justin’s.
America has often been coined “the land of the free.” Born into an immigrant family, my parents have always told me that they left everything behind just for their children to have a better education, life and opportunities. I am told to be grateful for consuming the fruits that America bears, not having to undergo the loneliness, and not needing to learn how to assimilate into a new culture with an unfamiliar language. Seeing as to how America is built on the backs of people of colour (POC), I still have trouble comprehending why all the blood, sweat and tears that went into building this nation isn’t good enough for America to value the lives of Black people and non-Black POC. As a first generation American and person of colour that continues to see this dehumanisation, I truly wonder: Did our Founding Fathers intend “freedom” to be for all Americans? Immigrants? Indigenous People? Refugees? Or just White people?
Honestly, we can all search up the dictionary definition of “freedom,” but America has once again proven to have its own meaning over the word. Following the wrongful murder of George Floyd on May 29th and the many victims of police brutality, the massive Black Lives Matter protests erupting across cities worldwide demonstrate that “freedom” is a luxury for those who don’t have to survive every day in systemic racism.
Ranging from our everyday interactions, schools, pop culture, and to our justice system, this implicit form of racism is much more dangerous than you think. It leads to the unjust deaths of Black people and non-Black POC. On March 13, Breonna Taylor, an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), was killed by Louisville police after a “no-knock” raid at her home, believing it was used for drug trafficking. If homes are considered unsafe, what spaces are truly safe then? Also, how high does the social status of an individual need to be in order to escape prejudices and discrimination?
These aggressions emotionally and mentally drain Black and non-Black POC. On top of living our daily lives, society has unconsciously placed a job for all POC to educate about systematic oppression. Why is society always dependent on us for answers when it is historically White people who imposed a race system in the first place?
Institutionalized racism creates complacency in many privileged individuals. This leads to complicity, which prevents compassion and empathy to be directed towards POC. As a result, the racist system is preserved and perpetuated.
Since the start of the Black Lives Matter protests, it has been made very clear that it is about police brutality, violence, and systemic racism against Black people. Literally, human rights! However, for some reason, the media can only focus attention on the looting, that occurs in a small percentage of protests, and the violent clashes with police. In my opinion, the media showcases an accurate representation of America’s top priorities and double standards. Why is it that White Americans can successfully reopen the closed economy during the peak of COVID-19 by protesting with firearms at state capitols, while those marching today about a human rights issue and fighting to incarcerate four cops are met with such resistance?
If you happen to talk about the protests and find your conversations surrounding only the lootings or “riots,” you definitely need to re-evaluate your privileges. You’re saying valued goods are more important than human life and that you rather uphold a corrupt toxic system so that you can live comfortably. You also need to open your eyes wider to see that you and your ways of thinking are problematic, because capitalistic goods can always be replaced, but George Floyd’s, Breonna Taylor’s, and the many other Black lives taken cannot.
To reiterate, America has kidnapped Black people and forced them into free labour for 400 years. In fact, America continues to take advantage of Black people and non-Black POC even to this day. If you don’t believe me, take a look at your museums. How many artifacts or collections do you think were actually donated out of good will? The looting and violence you see is a behaviour we learned from our oppressors. Based on all the injustices that has happened in history and currently, Black people and non-Black POC have every right to be mad. Nonetheless, looting should be the least of your worries when there’s a system that continues to violate human rights.
Even though the Civil Rights Movement was effective in bringing social change, POC existing in the same space as White people today still does not signify equality. POC are still at a disadvantage by not having the same resources to be successful. We are required to work twice as hard or even more to reach the same socioeconomic status as that of a White person. In New York, postal codes show racial and economic disparities. You don’t need statistics to show that Black and Brown communities have underfunded schools and poorer access to health services. You can see it in person yourself. In other words, equality is not equity. Furthermore, our diversity continues to be manipulated by White institutions in order to show acceptance and progressive thinking. To be clear, we are not your tokens for your diversity campaigns.
With that being said, the question really comes down to whether you will continue to remain complacent or complicit about racism. If not, what can you do? For starters, REFLECT on your privileges. Every person has their own privileges and can repurpose them to help the underprivileged.
Have CONVERSATIONS. It is important for non-Black POC and White people to dismantle the anti-Blackness within our communities and hold those accountable. Talk with family members and friends about the Black Lives Matter Movement, social justice issues in our world, and what actions can be taken. Specifically, for non-Black POC like myself, talk about how Black people have paved a road for immigrants to be in America and how Black Lives Matter is a fight for all POC in the long run. White America has not only created a system to oppress, but also created a system to pit POC against each other so that we aren’t able to join hands.
To become an effective ally, EDUCATE yourself about injustices. Sugar-coating the realities of Black and non-Black POC is a form of complicit racism. LISTEN to individuals in the movement. Do not let the stories of Black and non-Black experiences be eradicated by statistics. Also, LISTEN to what the individuals in the movement need. The last thing we want is for an ally’s action to do more harm than good.
READ about social justice movements and the experiences of marginalised people. This will help in developing empathy and understanding the different perspectives of racism. VOTE for individuals that are trying to change the system at local, state, and federal levels. The corrupt system continues to remain intact by those we don’t have enough support to outvote.
Finally, TAKE ACTION. Join the protests. If you’re unable to, look into different avenues to assist with protests such as by donating to bail funds and social justice organisations, organising supplies, being emergency contacts for protestors, etc. Remaining neutral is not an option. As Desmond Tutu, a South African human rights activist, once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Although times may be bleak right now, we should not lose hope.
It is our job as young people to create a framework for a better world for every individual and future generations. So, let me ask you again. What will it be? Will you stand on the wrong side of history or the right one?