"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Black Lives Matter.
Our Black and Brown brothers and sisters, neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family members live every day with a pernicious, constant burden that those of us who were born white can never understand. I will not ever know what it is like to live in constant fear that a routine activity could lead to my death simply because of the color of my skin.
Before I offer my own thoughts on the recent protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, I want to lift up the work of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. Earlier today, my colleagues in the Caucus held a press conference at which they issued ten policy proposals to increase police accountability and advance racial justice. You can find the release here.
The largely peaceful ongoing protests throughout Massachusetts and the nation are a clear indication of what we have long known but not wanted to face: that we have so much work to do in this country—a country founded on the backs of people of color and immigrants—in order to right the wrongs that centuries of racism have wrought. The fact that so many thousands turned out to march, willing to risk their lives in the face of a pandemic, shows how tired our Commonwealth, its citizens of color, and their white allies are of constantly seeing Black person after Black person killed by the police.
I count myself as among those white allies. I understand that the color of my skin gives me a tremendous amount of privilege. I was born with it; I did nothing to earn it. As a result, I know that it is my responsibility to use that privilege on behalf of those who do not have it.
While I have endeavored to educate myself about how I can be more supportive, more sympathetic, and more effective in my role of fighting for those who lack the racial privilege I enjoy, I know that there is still so very much more that I have to learn and that I can do in my capacity as an elected official.
So, to my Black and Brown friends, constituents, neighbors, I commit to you that I will continue to learn, continue to grow, and continue to dedicate myself to the ongoing fight that lies ahead. I am an ally, and I ask and expect you to push me when I fail to live up to the high standards of what is required of white allies in positions of influence.
To my fellow white allies, I encourage you to educate yourselves on the experience of being a person of color in the United States. It is not up to the people of color in our lives to educate us. We must take it on ourselves to do the research, to learn as much as possible, and to then take that information to our own families and communities and challenge them. We must show how urgent the need for action is and commit to raising our children to appreciate diversity and to fight for justice.
The tens of thousands of protesters demanding equity deserve our action. I call on my colleagues in the Legislature to commit to fighting for justice, and to then do so. Let your constituents know that you are on their side, working toward building a Commonwealth where all can feel and be safe.
At a time when the leader of our country has decided not to lead, here in Massachusetts we must redouble our efforts.
While we continue to protest and say the names of the long and growing list of Black Americans whose lives were taken from us prematurely—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and far, far too many others—we must dedicate ourselves to the hard work that lies ahead. We cannot be content to live in an America where this list continues to grow. It was too long when it was one, and it has grown ever longer in the face of a racist system and inaction on the part of white people in positions of power who could do something about the problem. We must make it stop.
Today, at the beginning of Pride Month, it is fitting to rededicate ourselves to the cause of justice for all. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. offered words fitting for this moment, saying “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” What is evidently clear to me is that we are all connected in such a way that if even one chain in the link is sick or broken, we are all weakened and diminished by it.
It is not enough to be quietly non-racist.
Now is the time to be vocally Anti-Racist.
Now is the time to embrace our Black and Brown neighbors as brothers and sisters.
Now is the time to translate our emotions into action.
In response to our anger, sadness, despair, frustration, disbelief, disgust, and fury, each of us must look inside ourselves to take stock of what is within our individual power to change. We each must ask, what can we do to help put our country back on a healthy trajectory? In the days, weeks, and months ahead, we must move mountains to change behavior in our efforts to eliminate racism.
But, in the face of what can seem like a daunting and insurmountable task, I am optimistic. I go forward with a deep faith and respect in my fellow citizens, believing that we will be deliberate and determined about the work ahead. With each generation, America has moved closer to our founding ideal that ALL are created equal, and we are now called to continue that tradition as we work together to form a more perfect union.
Eliminating racism is a battle that must be fought on many levels, addressing a litany of root causes such as poverty, education, gun violence, income inequality, affordable housing, and other structural deficits. While policy leaders such as myself work in the realms of legislation, regulation, and budgetary funding, each and every citizen still has a role to serve. Indeed, change will only happen if we all play our part.
Below are some ideas of what we can each do individually. It is by no means an exhaustive list, and I welcome your further suggestions, feedback, and input. Imagine what the world would look like if each of us picked just one or two of these tasks and followed through! In the words of President Obama, we must “meet anguish with action...get informed, take action, get engaged, and stand together.” I look forward to having you join me and our Black and Brown brothers and sisters in the hard work ahead.
1. Be friendly and courteous to people of color – make eye contact, smile, say hello, and acknowledge others as equals and with respect.
2. Shop at businesses owned by people of color.
3. Create an internship for minority and immigrant students within your workplace.
4. Mentor, hire, and promote people of color and immigrants.
5. Join the NAACP, Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, or similar groups.
6. Support organizations that work to eliminate the root causes of racism.
7. Elect progressive leaders, especially minorities and women.
8. Recruit people of color to join your organizations and be a part of your activities.
9. Make friends with people who are culturally different from you.
10. Try to understand what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes (a good place to start is with the work of Jane Elliott and her Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes experiment).
For further learning, please take a look at the growing list that my friend, Sean Osborne, has compiled. It can be found here.