–By Jennifer B.
I have been trying to process my emotions about the events of the past several weeks. I seem to vacillate between despair, elation, and back again. My mother is jubilant seeing so many hated Confederate monuments being taken down. For her they were a painful reminder of her childhood in Jim Crow era Mississippi. For me, they represented the subjugation of generations of my ancestors: my fourth great-grandmother, Ann, who bore four sons to the man who owned her; Ann’s grandson, Bob, who was lynched for defending himself against the men who attacked him for refusing to yield the sidewalk to a White man; my female ancestor who went to jail for shooting the White man who r**** her. I am happy to see those symbols of racist oppression removed, but I would be happier to see results from these protests that are more than symbolic.
I keep hearing young people say their generation will change the world. I hope it is true this time, but doesn’t every generation say that? My father said it in the 1960’s when he joined the Black Power movement. He and his friends engaged in acts of civil disobedience like ordering a burger at the legally desegregated/unofficially still segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, MS. (They were served water but not food). In 1970, he participated in a student protest on the Jackson State campus. The police showed up and opened fire on the women’s dorm where my aunt lived. They fired about 400 rounds, injuring 12 and killing two1. Of course, no officers were punished. Fifty years have passed, and the police are still killing Black people with impunity.
It feels like we have such a tenuous hold on the hard-earned gains of the civil rights movement. Seven years ago, the conservative-leaning Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the intervening years, states with a history of voting discrimination have closed precincts in predominantly Black neighborhoods, enacted draconian voter ID laws, and engaged in racial gerrymandering and voter roll purges2. Now, the pandemic and the resulting financial fallout are the latest catastrophes causing Black communities to lose ground.
I have been trying to feel hopeful about the future of this country and believe that we will finally beat our addiction to racism and White supremacy. However, it has been hard not to be skeptical. I was beginning to think that I had become a cynic who had lost all faith in humanity, but I felt slightly vindicated by recent survey data on racism. Only 35% of Black respondents said that it is “very” or “somewhat” likely that black people in the U.S. will eventually have equal rights (while 80% of White respondents said the same).3 Perhaps, I am just wary that lasting change is possible based on my lived experience.
I am, however, extremely heartened to see that the protests are international, multicultural, and multiracial. It feels like George Floyd’s death has galvanized the movement to end police brutality and institutional racism like never before. I pray that this time will really be different – that we can sustain the momentum and make it different.
- Wyckoff, Whitney Blair. “Jackson State: A Tragedy Widely Forgotten.” NPR, 3 May 2010, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126426361.
- Jackson, Rev. Jesse L., and David Daley. “Voter Suppression Is Still One of the Greatest Obstacles to a More Just America.” Time, 12 June 2020, https://time.com/5852837/voter-suppression-obstacles-just-america/.
- Best, Ryan, and Kaleigh Rogers. “Do You Know How Divided White and Black Americans Are on Racism?” FiveThirtyEight, 10 June 2020, https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/racism-polls/.