What RMC Bears can do to fight racism: Black History Month and Beyond [OPINION] by Tressa Nopper

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Photo of protests against the integration of the Little Rock Nine. Image by John T. Bledsoe

Photo of protests against the integration of the Little Rock Nine.
Image by John T. Bledsoe

Following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by the Minneapolis police, protests sprung up across the country. The summer of 2020 was historic partially because of its protests, as activists demanded a change in police departments across the country. People of all backgrounds took to the streets to protest the deaths of black Americans killed by police. 

The events of the past year also revealed the dark underbelly of racism and antisemitism fueled by dangerous online echo chambers such as MeWe, (an alternative to Facebook that lacks Facebook’s moderation capabilities), Gab (an alternative to Twitter), and sites such as Newsmax, which has reported unfounded conspiracy theories.

Examining our roles in systemic racism (racism that is a part of systems such as healthcare, education, housing, and more) is essential, as it is rapidly becoming clear that white supremacy — an ideology that many Americans felt was going away years ago — has only gained traction and support in the fallout of Donald Trump’s presidency. This Feb, Black History Month should serve as a reminder to Rocky Mountain College students that the work of eliminating racism is never complete and we all must continue learning and working toward a future in which all Americans are truly equal. 

What can you do today? 

Reflect. 

Think about how your race has shaped your life, and the lives of your family members. Learn about the history of policies such as redlining, a practice that prevented black families from getting home loans. Consider how such policies have shaped the lives of people today. Think about the fact that just 64 years ago, adults protested the integration of schools and threatened the lives of the Little Rock Nine, black students attempting to integrate into a white school after the Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional. These students had to be escorted to school by the National Guard, and were still threatened, harassed, and even beaten for going to school.

Support black-owned businesses. 

The Sassy Biscuit Co. in Downtown Billings is a black-owned business with locations in Billings and Dover, New Hampshire. Founders Jilan Hall-Johnson and DeMarco Johnson also operate Jookachickenjoint in the evenings at the same location. The Sassy Biscuit Co. offers a variety of breakfast and brunch choices, and Jookachickenjoint is open for dinner options. If you are shopping online, a simple search for black-owned businesses can lead you to guides of businesses, and Etsy even has a section for black artists.

Educate yourself.

Seek out resources such as books written by people of color that discuss oppression, and learn how you can live your life in a way that challenges racism. Use social media to connect to creators of color. Don’t expect the people of color that you personally know to be responsible for educating you. Seek out resources, and look for opportunities to learn and challenge your beliefs. 

A place to start: “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X Kendi. 

This book is a great starting point for anyone looking to examine all the different ways racism affects the lives of Americans. This book can help a person to reflect and begin to understand the roots of systemic racism, and how to fight against it in many aspects of life. 

Examine your unconscious biases. 

Think hard about the biases you hold. Understand that everyone has bias and that it is how you reflect and act on your biases that matter most. Consider where your biases might stem from, and how you can learn in order to grow from them. Many progressive, forward-thinking people fail to examine their views of race and believe that because they are not overtly racist, they are not contributing to systemic racism. Think about how you relate to other people, and how you can learn to have difficult discussions about race with your friends and family. If you are someone who chooses “not to see race,” take steps to educate yourself, and understand that such colorblindness is a way in which people contribute to systemic racism. Consider how you have benefited from systemic racism. Race and culture shape the lives of everyone. 

A good place to start: “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism”.

Work on being a better listener. And learn when to speak up. 

Focus on self-awareness, and work on being a better listener. Learn to ask questions, but don’t expect people of color to be responsible for giving you answers. Don’t make issues like systemic racism about you. Learn about white fragility and how to work for justice. Focus on the issues at hand. Stand up to casual racism and white supremacy, and see them for the dangerous ideologies they are. If you posted a black square on Instagram last summer in order to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, that is a start, but know that we all need to do more than be social media warriors. We also need to make sure that we are amplifying black voices rather than drowning them out with other content, which may or may not add to the conversation. We need to work for social justice in all aspects of life. If you attended the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, know that the work for justice in this country is far from over, and we have to continue to fight for justice. Vote for candidates who will enact policies that are just for all people. We all have a role to play in racism, so this Black History Month and beyond, refocus and continue to stand with other Americans, in the hope that someday there will be liberty and justice for all.

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