Editor: Dismantling racism starts with having the courage to initiate a dialogue. We are responding to statements made by Dennis Shea in his June 14 letter.
“It was worse for African Americans after reconstruction because they did not have the patronage of the master.”
When School Board representative John Beatty made this statement, he implied that masters were benevolent fathers. Words matter. The people who bought and imprisoned African people weren’t masters, but enslavers. Enslaved African families were torn apart, tortured, and violated; they had no freedom. Beatty’s words are reminiscent of words used by slavery defenders in the 1700s, “Blacks were living better in America than in Africa.” (Kendi, 89).
Using the word “slaves” to describe African people suggests that their identity is defined by the institution of slavery. The men, women, and children that were enslaved were human. How could someone think that enslaved people were better off enslaved? Doesn’t that explicitly contradict slogans that shaped America, like “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” or “Don’t Tread On Me” or “Live Free or Die: Death is not the worst of evils.”
“… all lives can’t matter until black lives matter.” I believe that this is about the most racist phrase one can utter.”
No one said that Black lives matter more than other lives. However, as a country white people have devalued Black lives for 400+ years. The institution of slavery was justified because Europeans attributed less value to Black lives and other lives not like their own. Our own Constitution perpetuated this idea when a Black man was considered 3/5ths of a person under the three-fifths compromise. Even Abraham Lincoln, who viewed slavery as a moral wrong and issued the Emancipation Proclamation, didn’t believe that white men and Black men were equal. During an Illinois debate in 1858 he said, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech declared that 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, “the Negro still is not free” and that the U,S, defaulted on its promise that “all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Black lives are still valued differently as compared to their White counterparts:
• Black and white people use marijuana at about the same rate, but Blacks people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. In DC, that goes up to 8 times more likely to be arrested.
- • Wage gap for degreed Black and white workers increased between 2000 – 2018 from 17.2% to 21% (Economic Policy Institute, 2019)
- • Black CEOs make up 1% of the Fortune 500 company CEOs despite African-Americans representing 13.4% of the U.S. population.
- • A 2017 study showed adults view Black girls as more adult-like and less innocent than white girls. They think Black girls as young as 5 need less protection and nurturing than their white peers.
- • Black women over the age of 30 are 5 times more likely to die during childbirth than white women over the age of 30
- Our government supported the practice of redlining which prevented Black Americans from accessing mortgage loans. This practice has contributed to the wealth gap between Black and white Americans
- Virginia is one of 3 states that permanently takes away a person’s right to vote when they are convicted of a felony. Black people make up 20% of Virginia’s population but 1 in 5 Black Virginians cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement.
“I was under the impression that our goal in America was to be color blind…”
To be color blind is to not only deny the unjust reality that people of color face every day in this country, but it is dehumanizing. Being color blind is like wrapping yourself in white privilege because you fear challenging the systems that keep your privilege intact. If we don’t notice race and are color blind, then as Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt says we are not valuing a person’s authentic self and we may also fail to see discrimination.
To dismantle racism, understand your whiteness, learn about our history, and get involved in organizations like NAACP and Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee (MSAAC). People of color continue to be treated unfairly and unjustly; facing challenges that many White people don’t have to think about. Be a brave voice for change and consider what you must do differently to end racial injustice.
Natalia Beardslee, Chantilly and Charlotte McConnell, Sterling