Michael Brown was killed in August of 2014, and we’re still talking about it today.
The media attention opened a window of opportunity to shed light on systemic injustices in our country. Although the topic of racism is an uncomfortable one to explore, people of all races have been compelled to acknowledge that it exists.
Greater awareness has finally started to emerge, but it needs to keep growing. Without action by individuals and communities, this awareness will have little effect on our nation.
Building consciousness is the first step.
No matter the focus area, real change can only occur through responsive understanding. The reason many remain essentially uninformed about issues involving racial injustice is because discussing them openly can feel awkward and distressing.
Sometimes, we get so preoccupied in our own little corners of the universe that we forget to think about others. But until we reach a certain level of collective awareness, we won’t be able to move forward and solve these problems that have plagued our society for too long.
In the case of Michael Brown, the protests—both peaceful and disruptive—raised the public’s consciousness regarding issues that might have otherwise stayed swept under our societal rug.
I’m confident we’re moving in the right direction, but we can’t rest now.
Simple awareness isn’t enough.
While the African-American perspective on this matter hasn’t yet been sufficiently translated for the white community, a growing number of white people, at last, have been forced out of their default modes of disregarding the serious issues facing the black community. Further, black people, both young and old, have begun to recognize that they have a critical part to play in interpreting and solving these problems.
Awareness is an excellent start, but there’s a big difference between acknowledging a problem and working to fix it. Admitting that racism affects every community is important, but it can only be eradicated if action is taken.
As peaceful protests and civil disobedience wind down, it’s time for us to work together to discover and implement effective, systematic, and long-term solutions.
Action means doing individual work.
Every one of us can help find solutions by looking at our communities, our government, and ourselves. We can start by analyzing and acknowledging our own personal biases. Reflecting on the ways we think about race helps us see aspects of our thought processes that might need adjustment.
To do so, we need to talk and empathize with people outside of our own communities whose history and backgrounds may be foreign to us. Such conversations can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. The goal is to identify how the struggles others endure are different from our own. When we reach out and encourage people to share their experiences, it’s easier to put ourselves in their shoes.
Empathy will help us reach our goals, but we must also take a hard look at public policy. Political ignorance will diminish our overall effectiveness. In order to improve existing laws and regulations, we first need to view them through the lens of equity.
For example, do certain aspects of public policy adversely target low-income or under-represented citizens?
If so, we must raise our collective voice, share our concerns, and call for change. In this way, we can actively support advocates who are pushing for beneficial economic, educational, and social public policy changes.
Change takes community dialogue.
Promoting civic engagement is key. Thanks to Ferguson and similar communities, a solid foundation of growing awareness now supports those working toward systematic change.
Partnerships between political leaders and communities will help bolster efforts to repeal racially biased policies. But we need to create safe spaces where we can have productive talks about racism—where people feel they can publicly voice concerns without facing repercussions.
I work in public policy, and legislators have both overwhelming workloads and limited time to devote to many competing but important issues. Thus, there is a constant need for re-education on my part and theirs. Without ongoing dialogue between us, I can’t understand their goals, and they can’t understand mine.
The same concept applies to addressing injustice: If communities facing the ill-effects of racism stay silent, their struggles will never be fully understood by others. Although the voice of a single person can be the catalyst that propels a movement, widespread change requires the cooperation of entire communities and, better yet, the entire country.
United we stand.
We are all ultimately affected by racism and injustice, which is why all of us must use our resources and power to change and move forward as a nation. Our decision to combat all forms of injustice is a universal call to action and must be part of our collective mindset.
The agenda involves uncomfortable conversations, community outreach, and individual soul-searching, and the process isn’t going to be perfectly smooth. Missteps on all sides are bound to occur, but we must commit to moving forward together as a nation, or divided we will fall.
Author: Rose Windmiller
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Rose Colored Photo