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The Voice of the Black Community
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Opinion

Why are we at the intersection of race and oppression?
America has yet to atone for original sin
 
Published Monday, June 15, 2020 12:23 pm
by Dante Bryant

PHOTO | UNC CHARLOTTE
UNC Charlotte Assistant Professor Dante D. Bryant.

As a professor and social activist, I have spent the greater portion of my adult life researching, organizing and responding to various forms of institutionalized racial inequality and social oppression. Still, while I deeply believe in the work that I do, at times it is difficult, challenging and when I feel overwhelmed, I am often unsure of where to begin.


So, in times like this, I recognize that it is easy and sometimes preferable to be confused; to intentionally or unintentionally channel one’s anger toward a black man kneeling during the national anthem rather than take the time to understand why he chose to do so; or, to publicly lament the loss of property with greater intensity than we lament the loss of life.
In times like this, I have found it beneficial to step back and remember why we are here.


What we are witnessing is not exclusively about racism, racist/unlawful police practices, or the tragic and reprehensible murders of people such as George Floyd, Keith Scott, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. While each is more than worthy of the full weight of current protest, what is happening across the country is no more or less about them than the 1955 protest and Civil Rights movement it inspired were about the gruesome killing of 14-year-old Emmitt Till.


Although honoring them all, the events that followed Floyd, Scott, Taylor, Arbery, Till and countless others were and are about the pervasiveness and impacts of White supremacy. But, let me be clear. When I say “white supremacy,” I am not referring to any particular racial identity or attempting to conjure images of a small group of racial-extremists in some rural part of the country.


When I say “white supremacy,” I am echoing the voices of scholars who denote “white supremacy” as an oppressive and pervasive social system, and political and societal condition in which black and brown Americans have been forced to manage, negotiate, endure and attempt to survive.


I am talking about healthcare, education, employment and yes, criminal justice systems that have and continue to produce disproportionately better outcomes for people who are identified as white than they do for people who are identified as black.


I am talking about a system that offers much of White America a peaceful night’s sleep in exchange for their empathy and the closing of eyes to the suffering of others.


I am talking about a social condition that presents Floyd, Scott, Taylor, Arbery and Till’s lives not as unique, unreplicable events, but as possible daily outcomes for all black and brown people. A reality I was made acutely aware of when, as a 22-year-old graduate student, I was arrested for mistaken identity. I still remember being pulled over for a faulty taillight as I entered my apartment complex.

I remember waiting for the officer to return with my ID as the number of patrol cars grew from one to three; and I remember the terror I felt when suddenly there were five officers, with weapons drawn demanding that I put my hands up, get out of the car and lay face down. I remember being ignored as two of the officers escorted me to a remote part of town while debating whether to take me in or to the “boys;”  and I remember them continuing their conversation in a dark open field only to return to the car and state, ‘it’s your lucky day, boy.”


I remember the dehumanizing feeling of the booking process and the sense of hopelessness I felt locked in a jail a thousand miles away from family for the full duration of the Thanksgiving holiday; and I remember the combination of fear and anger I experienced, when upon release, I was informed that I had been mistaken for a man four inches shorter than me who was considerably heavier and wanted for assaulting an officer.


But most of all, I remember the rage that boiled up as a succession of lawyers informed me that no judge in the district would seriously consider my suit, and that pursuing one would simply cost me more time and money that I did not have.


So in times like this, I think it is important for all of us to remember, open our eyes and know that “white supremacy” not only threatens the lives of black and brown people, but if we collectively do nothing, it will consume the humanity of us all.


Conversely, it is not enough for us to simply acknowledge the cause of loss; we must act. We must accept that we can no longer afford to relegate all accountability to those who sit in designated positions of power, but we must embrace and respond to the reality that we, as a racially diverse collective, are the power, the systems, and the means by which change will come.


We must compile, leverage and employ our various forms of power, resources and privileges to support those who are disproportionately impacted by these issues, and we must use these same resources to protect those who are vulnerable by holding ourselves, our family members, neighbors, colleges, employers, employees and elected officials accountable.
We must do all of these, and more, if we are to ensure that there will be no more times like this.


Dante’ D. Bryant is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and affiliated faculty member in the Department of Africana Studies at UNC Charlotte.

Comments

Thank you Dr Bryant for putting into words something so necessary and so hard for some people to grasp. You know I will be using your article!
Posted on July 13, 2020
 
Thanks for sharing your story. I'm sure it was very painful to recall these horrific moments, but I believe your story will bring great awareness to the plight of black lives. I'm glad you made it out of the system safely, but think of all who never make it out based on the reasons you presented in your story. There is still more work to be done, and the fight for freedom must continue.
Posted on July 3, 2020
 
Absolutely describes how we as African Americans experience living in America, the land of the free!
Posted on June 19, 2020
 
Dr. Bryant, how absolutely horrifying. As a white person, M.D., wife, mother, and grandmother, I can't begin to imagine the rage and terror you felt in that jail, nor those same feelings today in response to the apparent continuing war on Black men by the police. I hope you'll continue to tell your story: it's brave, and it lets those of us who haven't been able to see inside the police what's been and is going on. This wasn't mistaken identity; it was an excuse to take any Black man and terrorize him. It also reveals the way in which Black people are seen as objects instead of as living people - "one is the same as another". Therefore, one can kneel on a Black man's neck for more than 8 minutes, because what's under one's knee is seen as an object rather than a real living human being - and an "object" doesn't need to breathe. I agree with your analysis of where responsibility lies for change and on the cost to us all of not changing. My best wishes.
Posted on June 17, 2020
 
Dante: Thank you for sharing your cogent insights.
Posted on June 16, 2020
 
Awesome read, thank you.
Posted on June 16, 2020
 

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