By Vernon A. Williams
“Change does not roll in on the winds of inevitability, but come through continuous struggle, and so we must straighten our backs and work for freedom.”
— The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Social change is not a spectator event.
Just as the coronavirus confronts the world with an unprecedented negative reality, so does the spirit of global rebuke of Black oppression create a level of optimism for positive change that no living person has experienced.
The perception that this time is different reflects the optimism of those who have lived long enough to be repeatedly frustrated by massive demonstrations of unity that in time, faded into oblivion – with little sustainable impact.
For believers, it is worth noting that past failed attempts to eradicate racism in the lacked many of the elements causing faith in the future today. For example, this is the first year that anti-racism protests have spread to 380 cities in all 50 states (many with miniscule African American population) as well as 38 countries.
It has been surreal watching states and nations that are virtually all white march by the thousands to proclaim that “Black Lives Matter.” Never mind the fact that former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence – the incumbents vice sycophant – refuses to utter the phrase. This moment has transformed into a movement with no signs of diminishing.
Worldwide corporations are rethinking their brand and their tone.
Aunt Jemima pancake mix, Uncle Ben’s rice and Mrs. Butterworth syrup are all being changed to eliminate stereotypes ingrained in design and marketing of those products. NASCAR, which has only one prominent Black driver, has banned the display of Confederate flags and emblems at its events. The commissioner of the NFL is encouraging teams to consider signing Colin Kaepernick with admissions of league over-reacting to the quarterback’s protest of kneeling during the national anthem.
Massive police reform is already afoot in half the states of the country with bills being debated in both houses of Congress. Television has cancelled the long-running reality show “Cops” as the backlash against police brutality spirals. Juneteenth is now a paid holiday at companies that include Nike, the NFL, Allstate, Lyft, Uber, and J.C. Penney.
Portraits and statues celebrating the treasonous, pro-slavery confederate army leadership have been, or are in the process of being, removed in cities across the country including New Orleans, Decatur, Ga., Dallas, Norfolk, Va., Washington, D.C. and the capital of the rebellious south during the civil war, Richmond Va., where a towering monument of slave own- er Gen. Robert E. Lee looms ominously.
U.S. armed services is consider new identities for 10 military facilities named in memory of individuals who seceded from the union to fight the United States in the 19th century. Public schools and institutions that bear similar name associations are also being pressed to identify more worthy heroes to honor than the traitors of the south.
With all that makes us hopeful, it is important to beware of the trap of complacency that can set in when the excitement of the moment subsides. News media coverage is already waning and will even more this summer. Don’t let that diminish your resolve.
Our hope for lasting change, as stated at the outset in the words of Dr. King, will rest on our capacity to not only sustain but build on momentum for the establishment of a more just and equitable status for Blacks. We must permeate society with this ongoing message in the work place, through organizations, at social and civic events, among neighbors and parishioners, in corporate America, throughout our educational system, and, arguably most important, from the pulpit.
Those opposed to change will count on the resistance dying from distractions and disappointment that every change won’t come immediately. It took 400 years for us to get here to this intolerable condition and we won’t be rid of the monster of racism overnight.
If we build this new societal structure with one brick at a time, knowing this race is a marathon and not a sprint, we have a genuine opportunity to spare future generations of the intense, brutal oppression we endured.
Reaching this next level will require the same sense of compromise and empathy demonstrated to this point around the world by all races, ethnicities, nationalities, and political affiliations. Black Lives Matter is not political but rather a appeal to the humanity of a world that won’t tolerate the murder of a man with impunity on live television.
Constantly ask what you can do – wherever you are. If you are not sure, ask somebody. Nobody can do it all. But everyone can do something. Faith without work is dead. We need to do more than believe it can happen, we have to do whatever it takes to make it happen. This time is different. Be on the right side of history. Get involved.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].