The Reckoning.

by Betsy Shaver, VP of Operations

Injustice is not new, even if it is new to you.

How to describe this year? In March, we all began sheltering in place due to COVID-19. The pandemic put us all in uncharted territory, and we spent April figuring out what the “new normal” looked like. Then, May arrived and brought, among others, the deaths of Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. 

Perhaps because these wrongful deaths came in rapid succession at a time when many of us had exhausted all other avenues of distraction, we had no other option but to confront them and reflect upon them. For some of us, this may be the first time we’ve had to do this. One way or another, the tragic death of George Floyd seems to have precipitated a reckoning that will change our country forever, and I hope, positively so – because America has been unjust for too many of us for too long; and by continuing to refuse to acknowledge that, we are complicit in a deep betrayal.

Idealized as “The Land of Opportunity,” the United States has steadfastly and unflinchingly viewed itself through rose-colored glasses, where anybody has the potential to become anything they want to be. If you’re white, as I am, this was a relatively easy pill to swallow for much of your life. It’s the “default” setting.  If you’re a person of color, you knew better at a very young age.

Let’s take a look at some U.S. history. In school, we were taught that “settlers” arrived here in the early 1600s and what we learned henceforth centered the experience of “pilgrims.” The systematic subjugation and decimation of Native nations that followed (and continues) was and is acknowledged with no more mindfulness than you’d give an ex at a mutual friend’s holiday party. It’s unpalatable, so instead of calling it genocide, we renamed it “westward expansion” and “manifest destiny.” We take this sweeping, revisionist approach to slavery as well. We are frighteningly adept at averting our gaze and dismissing the fact that our country, from the beginning, has been unjust and violent. The cognitive dissonance that must exist for us to overlook large-scale atrocities—like enslaving an entire race for the benefit of white, male land owners—precludes many of us from ever becoming aware of the ‘smaller’ atrocities.

Woodrow Wilson screening The Birth of a Nation (1915) at the White House was a public endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan, essentially giving new life to white bigots who envisioned themselves as heroes; the supreme race destined to dominate all other races. These sentiments festered unchecked as America entered The Great War, The Great Depression, and the Second World War. During World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered Japanese Americans to be relocated to internment camps. Some of the people who were put into these camps as children are my neighbors now. 

Juneteenth (June 19th, 1865) is widely regarded as the end of slavery in America, even though President Lincoln had ordered this two-and-a-half years earlier. Language prohibiting slavery was ratified in the 13th Amendment in December of 1865, although it provided a loophole excluding incarcerated individuals, which is still used today.  Even after these “official” measures aimed at creating equality, black Americans continued to be legally disenfranchised with literacy tests, poll taxes, etc., until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (yes, that is 100 years later) passed, guaranteeing ALL Americans the right to vote and abolishing poll taxes in the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Quick reminder that the 14th Amendment (1868) guarantees “Equal protection under the law” to all U.S. citizens.  

Fast forward to today: The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately ravaged communities of color, and the fact that this is widely known but imperceptibly addressed is yet another way in which we continue the cycle of violence against people of color. To add insult to injury, there is irrefutable evidence that minority business owners have simply not received the support from the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program loans that their white counterparts have. Unfortunately, this is inextricably linked with the difficulty minority entrepreneurs have securing funding, which has been extensively documented.  

So the question becomes, at what point do we decide to acknowledge our collective wrongdoings and implement meaningful changes to right them? When will it be more important to live in a just society than to protect our privilege at all costs? How long are we going to accept that people of color are dramatically underrepresented in board positions? How long will hiring managers continue to pass over qualified candidates of color? How long will we continue to allow the wage gap to devalue women of color? 

We can have justice or we can have privilege. Not both. Let’s get it right this time.

Betsy can be reached at betsy@mindcette.com.