Featured Artwork: Chelsea Beck
Why Legal Reform Alone Is Not Enough
You might have read the title of this article and immediately thought it could not possibly apply to you. After all, how could you be racist when you’ve been going to protests, posting Instagram stories and retweets all day, calling your representatives, and signing countless petitions to support the Black Lives Matter movement?
The political climate within the past couple of years has only become increasingly polarizing, enabling people to easily develop an “us versus them” mentality and fling accusations at other parties of being racist and ignorant. However, in doing so, we are drawing focus away from addressing our own internalized prejudices and acknowledging the ways we may be unintentionally and unknowingly harming the Black community or benefitting from their struggles.
As an Asian American, I was well aware of the prejudices that society had towards people like me, but it took a long time to understand how the model minority myth contributes to the lack of understanding between different minority groups and the judgment and belittling of each group’s unique struggles. Therefore, whether you’re white or a person of color, as allies we all must learn to do a better job of listening to the needs of the African American community and the stories of those in it before we try to preach about what we have yet to understand.
In a similar vein, many allies claim that they “don’t see color” in an effort to prove how not racist they are. While the intentions behind this statement may be well-meaning, dismissing people’s ethnicities dismisses the struggles that they face due to them, and the privileges you may receive for yours. Race is a major factor in shaping the way we view the world and the way we interact with our communities, so understanding the different struggles each racial minority group faces is imperative to the way we perceive them and try to resolve those issues. It is impossible to be truly “colorblind” in a society that is built upon racial hierarchies.
The solidarity that the nation has shown in support of this movement for the past 3 weeks has been admirable. All 50 states held mass protests pushing for the prosecution of the officers involved in the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as for more legislation to strictly regulate officer actions to prevent future incidents of police brutality. Since the beginning of the protests on May 26, several new laws have been passed and progress has been made, due to the hard work of African American community leaders and allies. Derek Chauvin’s murder charges were raised to the second-degree, and Breonna’s Law, which bans Louisville police from using no-knock warrants, was recently put into effect. Congressional Democrats have proposed the Justice in Policing Act, and other reform bills have also been introduced in Colorado, Massachusetts, Illinois, Vermont, New York, and California to address the unchecked abuse of power exhibited by police officers.
However, despite the legal progress that has been made — and will hopefully continue to be made — the systemic oppression of African Americans that has been perpetuated since the founding of the original Thirteen Colonies over 400 years ago cannot be eradicated by just a few simple laws.
African Americans continued to face poverty, unemployment, voter suppression, hate crimes, and other forms of systemic oppression even after the ratification of the 13th Amendment (abolished slavery), 15th Amendment (voting rights), The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (prohibited segregation and racial discrimination), and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (outlawed discriminatory voting practices).
Evidently, past laws claiming to protect the rights of African Americans have failed to do so, largely because of how difficult they are to enforce and because the mentality at the root of the injustices being inflicted upon African Americans has not changed throughout the centuries. In order to create real progress, we must also address the ways we perpetuate racism in our communities and the media. Although social progress is much more difficult to measure than legal amendments, it is just as important in creating lasting change for our society and our future generations.
Recognizing that you may still harbor some racist beliefs does not make you a bad ally as long as you are taking the initiative to educate yourself and unlearn those prejudices. The assumptions and stereotypical beliefs about African Americans and Black culture I was taught growing up cannot be expected to be unlearned within a matter of days. Likewise, the racism rooted in over four hundred years of African American oppression cannot be unlearned within a matter of weeks. As allies, we will never be able to completely understand the struggles of African Americans, and thus we are bound to make mistakes in our efforts to help. However, we must continue to strive to own and correct our mistakes to become better allies every single day in order to continue creating legal and social change. The beautiful thing about fighting against racism is that you don’t need to be completely free of racism yourself to support the movement. In order to be anti-racist, you simply need to actively combat racism wherever you see it, including — and especially — in yourself.