This past week, The United States celebrated the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth (a portmanteau of June and Nineteenth), which commemorates the day in 1865 on which all enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy were legally emancipated. This year, Juneteenth fell at an especially noteworthy moment in time, as many actively grappled with the state of equality around the world. A mere three weeks prior to Juneteenth’s annual remembrance, George Floyd’s barbaric murder catalyzed a powerful wave of resistance in the face of longstanding systemic racism, with its energy reverberating ubiquitously. The very prejudice and bigotry that pervade the abhorrent 8 minutes and 46 seconds that many of us have watched, are saddening, disturbing, and enraging. These raw emotions have fostered difficult conversations, buoyed impactful protests globally, and brought forth one fateful question: Will this movement be different?
George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray and Ahmaud Arbery represent only a few of the countless individuals who have been killed by the destructive force of systemic racism. These murders demonstrate that the legacy of excruciatingly painful fragments of history, such as slavery, the U.S. Civil War, and Jim Crow laws, remains very much entrenched in our lives today; the remnants of such methods of destructive and hateful discrimination can be found embedded in political, economic, and social structures globally.
It is precisely in this pivotal moment, which is marked by a pandemic that plagues Black communities disproportionately, economic turmoil that has tripled the Black unemployment rate, and now, in light of flagrant, longstanding, pervasive anti-blackness, that we must all fight for better.
Only in 1954 was the racial segregation of public schools barred by the U.S. Supreme Court. Interracial marriage in the United States was not legalized until 1967. Jim Crow laws, which segregated life in every conceivable way, were only completely outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While women rallied for the right to vote for over a century, and finally achieved a momentous victory on August 18th, 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, not all women were able to exercise this newfound right. Yes, even within the women’s suffrage movement there existed widespread racism and other forms of inequality. It wasn’t until the ratification of The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits literacy tests and other intentional strategies aiming to disenfranchise racial minorities, that African Americans maintained a notable presence at the polls throughout the United States. These so-called historical strides towards equality are, as it seems, not so historical. Even more, they demonstrate that while laws may change, the matters they attempt to address are not simply “fixed” or more equal, while they may appear as such on paper.
Discrimination and disenfranchisement have seeped far deeper from the laws themselves; they are ingrained in every aspect of our being. This is precisely why protests, demonstrations, conversations, allyships, and all other forms by which we erode the rampant forces of bigotry, are so immensely powerful.
This movement seems different from others before, and I remain hopeful. There appears to be a predominant call for not fleeting activism, but instead, lasting change. As a white woman, I recognize the privilege in having lived a life throughout which the implications of the color of my skin have not negatively impacted me. I also acknowledge that while I have never considered myself a racist, I have also not actively considered myself an “anti-racist,” and over the past few weeks, I’ve learned that there is a vast distinction between these two ideologies. Being “not racist” simply isn’t enough. Moreover, allyship has grown to be one of the most fundamental words in my vocabulary as of late. Allyship implies acting out of responsibility as opposed to a sense of obligation or guilt. Allyship means listening, and being open to receive guidance from the groups we wish to work with, but not expecting to be educated by them.
Allyship signifies that those who benefit from a system that grants them power cannot complacently sit by and enjoy such unmerited and destructive privilege. Instead, they must use their innate advantage to effect positive change.
We must turn the spotlight away from ourselves, and direct it towards those who have been enduringly left in the dark. We must listen, we must unlearn, and we must learn. We must use our privilege for a purpose outside of ourselves.