by Martine Khumalo
Black people in America have clear visions for how to achieve change when it comes to racial inequality. This vision includes supporting significant reforms to, or complete overhauls of, several American institutions to ensure fair treatment, among them the criminal justice system and political engagement and voting. This vision also involves supporting Black businesses to advance Black communities and providing reparations in the forms of educational, business and homeownership assistance.
The present-day fight for racial equality in the United States has deep historical roots. The Civil Rights Movement was a social justice struggle, mainly during the 1950s and 1960s, that agitated for Black Americans to gain equal rights under the law. While the Civil War had officially abolished slavery, it didn’t end discrimination against Black people, and they continued to endure the devastating effects of racism. By the mid-20th century, Black Americans had had more than enough of the prejudice and violence against them and built a movement to realize change.
Police brutality is just the most visibly violent manifestation of deeper systemic racism that is ingrained in nearly every aspect of our societies. This systemic racism harms Black people wherever it appears. African Americans are underrepresented in leadership roles across business industries, have a difficult time accessing quality housing, are over-represented in the criminal justice system, and experience disparities in health care and education outcomes, as compared to white people and other minorities. In the United States, unemployment—while exacerbated across the board by the coronavirus—has hit Black Americans especially severely. Even when employed, a Black worker earns less than a white worker for the same work.
Black lives should be a priority in all spaces, but from police brutality to COVID-19 to voter suppression, Black communities have been and still are under attack. Black people are undertaking conscious action and education to combat the problem. Black organizers work to disrupt inequality, dismantle racism and accelerate change; they are also uniquely able to secure more wins than anyone else.
However, everyone is needed to help make racial equality a reality. Understand that systemic racism goes beyond police brutality, and that it exists within the banking, education and health industries— and even within business.
- Sign petitions and engage with the political system directly. These racist systems are far-reaching, and fixing them requires sustained public efforts. Protests, petitions and calls for action over the past few years have already changed business practices and influenced policies in cities, states and countries around the world. Since the George Floyd protests erupted, even the sports industry has changed its stance and embraced the Black Lives Matter movement, by, for instance, permitting players to kneel in protest.
- Speak out and inform yourself on social media. Social media has been a great place to find out which policy changes local activists are petitioning for. See below for some tips on organizations working to end anti-Black racism and police brutality; consider following and supporting their efforts.
- Organize at your school. Target racism in education, where Black students face more barriers than their white peers. In general, Black kids learn at schools that are underfunded and under-resourced, and face disproportionately frequent and severe discipline, such as suspension. Black students also amass more student debt in higher education, making it difficult to achieve financial stability. Ensuring equitable education for black students requires action at all levels.
- Resist racism at work. Speak up against racism in the workplace and support your Black colleagues. Even though the number of Black people with college degrees has increased dramatically since the ‘90s, Black professionals are still underrepresented in the workforce. This lack of representation is particularly stark in senior leadership roles. Some are highlighting this disparity by boycotting companies that lack diverse leadership.
Here are some organizations that are working locally and beyond to combat racism:
Black Lives Matter
This is a dynamic, chapter-based, international organization whose goal is to create a world where violence is no longer inflicted on Black people. The movement is significant because it is very effective at making change: it has achieved police reforms and changed the way laws are enforced. Black Lives Matter has fought to re-allocate police budgets towards housing and education, helped Black students fight for justice in their schools and also helped push for expanding the Black history teaching curriculum beyond slavery.
Black Organizing Project (BOP)
The Black Organizing Project (BOP) was founded in 2009 in response to the lack of prioritization of Black people in organizing spaces. It was started to build Black community power and develop leaders in Oakland and across the Bay Area. Before this recent increase of mass organizing of Black people captured the hearts and minds of the world, BOP and other grassroots organizations dared to dream and push for change that to many felt out of reach. In the spirit of our ancestors and the many lives and leaders that made sacrifices before us, BOP emerged as a vehicle for change. In 2009, Black communities across the country were experiencing intense highs and lows—mourning the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina, celebrating our first Black president and witnessing the tragic killing of Oscar Grant by Bay Area Transit (BART) Police. BOP took to the streets and listened to our community to hear what issues were most important and to ensure that the most impacted were truly driving the work. What started as a project soon became a place of refuge for many, a place where Black people came together to learn, organize, work and love each other.
Causa Justa :Just Cause (CJJC)
This is a multi-racial, grassroots organization building community leadership to achieve justice for low-income San Francisco and Oakland residents. They provide tenant rights advocacy and information to tenants through a Housing Committee/Tenants’ Rights Clinic. They build membership through recruitment in the tenants’ rights clinics and through neighborhood door knocking and outreach. They fight grassroots campaigns to win immigrant rights and housing rights ,and work toward building a larger movement for social transformation.
Equal Justice Initiative
This is a private, nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons. They challenge the death penalty and excessive punishment of Black people and provide re-entry assistance to formerly incarcerated people. The Equal Justice Initiative works with communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment. They also provide research and recommendations to assist advocates and policymakers in the critically important work of criminal justice reform.
The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC)
This is a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS . Its mission is to end racism, homophobia and LGBTQ/SGL bias and stigma. As America’s leading national Black LGBTQ/SGL civil rights organization focused on federal public policy, NBJC has accepted the charge to lead Black families in strengthening the bonds and bridging the gaps between the movements for racial justice and LGBTQ/SGL equality. The organization’s cornerstone issues are health and wellness, HIV awareness and prevention, safe and inclusive schools, employment non-discrimination, relationship and family recognition, anti-violence and economic justice.