It’s time for America to address systemic racism
Almost one century ago, between May 31 and June 1, 1921, white residents used rumor and speculation to justify the murder of dozens and the looting and burning of over 1,000 homes, businesses, churches, hospitals, and schools that were owned and managed by black residents. This mass lynching is considered to be one of the worst single incidents of racial terrorism in U.S. history. At the time, it was called the Tulsa Race Massacre. Today, we know it as Black Wall Street.
The justified uprisings we see erupting across the nation — from New York City to Philadelphia to Atlanta to Minneapolis to Louisville to Salt Lake City to Los Angeles — are in fact the rebellion of a people who are responding to the daily massacres that they have experienced for generations in a long list of past and present injuries that include abusive police tactics, stagnant wages, lack of contracts with black businesses, growing health disparities, discriminatory housing practices, the denial of mortgages and loans, and other offenses that are repeatedly addressed only with symbolic gestures rather than substantive action.
Today, black people are fighting battles seemingly on every front, from ensuring we can survive the health and economic stresses that COVID-19 has put on our businesses and communities, to fighting that other virus that this nation has long given up finding the vaccine for: systemic racism. While many, if not all of us, are still trying to describe how we are feeling in this moment and attempting to process these latest examples of America’s insanity, James Baldwin’s words continue to unfortunately ring true that, “To be [black] in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
We will not use this moment to condemn the sometimes passionate reactions of an oppressed people to the visible reminders of their oppression. Life is the property of the living and it is this property we seek to protect.
Instead, we send our hopes for safety to, and stand in solidarity with, those who are literally risking their lives as they display a righteous indignation toward racist double standards, police brutality, and continued oppression, and who stand up in our steads to call for basic human rights.
In lieu of statements of support, we urge elected and appointed leaders at the state and local levels to use their positions to act on the demands of grassroots organizers and organizations to address the root of the problem at hand. In the long history of black rebellion in the United States, protests have never been solely about police violence, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophies and the policies that produce and condone this violence. In the coming days, we will work with our partners in coalition to develop and present a united agenda to our local and state leaders.
On behalf of the leadership of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, we send our deepest sympathies and warmest embrace to the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the countless others not ingrained in our mental catalogs as hashtags or videos whom we have lost to police violence.
Segun Idowu is the executive director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA).