On July 10th, Sandra Bland was pulled over by the police in Waller County, Texas for alleged improper signaling. The traffic stop escalated almost immediately when Bland refused the officer’s request to put out her cigarette and questioned him as to why he had pulled her over. Bland’s “defiance” culminated in her having her head slammed on the ground where she was cuffed and arrested for “resisting”. Two days later, what had begun as a routine traffic stop ended with Bland found dead, hanging by a garbage bag in her cell. The Waller County Sheriff’s Office says claims Bland committed suicide, but Bland’s family and friends believe otherwise, and have called for an independent autopsy to be conducted. This is no isolated incident. In Jennings, Missouri there have been multiple inmates found hanged or on the verge of asphyxiation, all of them apparently in good mental health. Most of the victims have been people of color.
On top of all that, we have the Police Chief of Fairfax County giving us nine minutes of absolutely nothing about the investigation of Natasha McKenna’s death, which was the result of her being shot by a Taser four times while handcuffed. Racism is apparent in all of these cases, yet many still refuse to acknowledge this basic reality. How can we possibly expect serious reform when every day Americans are blind to the obvious?
Of course, America’s ongoing racial injustice doesn’t survive on its own; it requires people to legitimize it. Unfortunately, most Americans are all too willing to do so. On July 18th, white supremacists and the KKK held a rally at the South Carolina statehouse to protest the removal of the Confederate Flag. The rally was held at the same time as a Black Educators for Justice event, but on the opposite side of it so as to avoid skirmishes. Things happened as one would expect: the KKK taunted Black Educators, waving swastikas and Confederate flags at them. While America continues to confront such outward and blatant racism, other white “bystanders” play their own subtle role in upholding the racist regime.
Mainstream presidential candidates and politicians on both sides of the aisle love to parrot the race-baiting mantra “All Lives Matter,” implying that there is nothing unique about the ubiquitous police violence perpetrated against blacks. Racism is only further entrenched by those of us who refuse to listen to Black voices and repeat such asinine claims like “racism only exists in the South.” Perpetuation also exists when we cheer the removal of the Confederate flag as if it’s a major victory. No, the Confederate flag should have been dead and buried long ago. The fact that it’s taken this long to be removed from a state capital building should be an embarrassment to all who live under it. Groups such as the New Black Panther Party have astutely stated that celebrating the downing of the Confederate flag is simply an “illusion of progress” which contributes nothing to Black liberation.
Instead of pushing for reforms which make us feel like we’ve contributed to ending racism, we need to start listening to the oppressed themselves and abolish the systems that oppress them. While surface level reform gives Americans that feel-good buzz, it will never be anything close to adequate to rid us of the underlying systemic racism. It is time we stop focusing on simplistic reforms and begin to acknowledge the roles we all play as cogs in an oppressive wheel.