From its beginnings, the United States has rooted its ideals on freedom and equality for its citizens.
In the first decades of this country’s existence, though, the only people granted the full privileges of citizenship were white property-owning men. So, much like today, these sought-after ideals only benefited a tiny fraction of the population.
The continued irony of this “new” nation is also that this land was stolen from indigenous peoples, built on the backs of enslaved people and maintained by immigrants from all over the world, most suffering unconscionable working conditions and meager pay.
Because of this history, racism in the United States is inherently a systemic issue, with roots that go deeper than daily discrimination.
A 2020 report by the Economic Policy Institute found that even six decades after Brown v. Board of Education made school segregation illegal, black students are five times as likely as white students to attend schools highly segregated by race and class. And according to a ProPublica analysis of federal data, black men are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than white men. These are just two examples of the gross inequalities borne of a system that grants privileges to white people, and a plethora of systemic disadvantages to people of color, especially the black community and their black LGBTQ siblings.
To clarify, privilege doesn’t mean that white people won’t suffer from life’s difficulties. But privilege does mean that white people won’t experience oppression because of the color of their skin.
For white people, learning about racism and not ever directly experiencing it is a privilege in and of itself. A privilege that people of color, especially African Americans, do not and will never have.
The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade have brought the United States to another reckoning with its inherently racist systems.
For too long, black men have been imprisoned on minor charges, or for crimes they did not commit. Black transgender people have been brutalized and murdered. And black women giving birth have experienced medical racism too often resulting in their own deaths. These injustices happen every day. Sometimes they are remembered in history, thanks to courageous black writers, but mostly they are forgotten, seen as collateral damage in a system focused solely on maximizing capital for 1% of white Americans.
So what needs to be done? This newspaper and nationwide media need to seek out and amplify black voices through intentional investment in young writers of color, especially black writers, to present the nuanced realities of the systemic injustices that black people face and how this shows up in protests and rioting. After all, rioting has historically been the only way for the American people to effect change.
In 1969, Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman, threw the first brick at the Stonewall Inn that began a series of riots and protests for the LGBTQ rights movement in the United States.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968, which made it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person’s race, was not passed right after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Rather, it was passed later that year, after six days of riots that resulted in $24 million in property damage in Washington, D.C., alone.
Furthermore, police departments need to be defunded — that is, a significant portion of the funds they receive should be reallocated to social services. (A Change.org petition was launched by Alyssa Miller asking Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace to reallocate Lancaster city police funding.) Police reform, like hiring more officers of color and installing body cameras, has not proved sufficient. Defunding the police and investing these funds into social services that benefit the community will result in harm and crime reduction.
As a person of color, I stand by my black brothers and sisters. I use my privilege as a Latinx person to be a source of support for them. I will never understand or experience the exact same injustices they face, but I will fight alongside them. I do not want to make this fight about me. I want to lift up the voices of those truly hurting.
So what can we do as allies? Amplify black voices. Attend protests to support black protesters and be a shield between them and police. Work on righting the historical wrongs of privilege by supporting physical efforts for change instead of selfishly remaining silent.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Tony Robinson, Sandra Bland, and so many other black lives have been wrongfully taken by police. We must say their names.
Gabriella Rodríguez is a graduate of McCaskey High School and a student at Millersville University.