America Needs to Take its Anti-Racist Prescription

By Allyn Brooks-LaSure.

The national extravaganza of Juneteenth is over, and a chilling anxiety is settling in about what comes next. Protests continue across our nation, COVID-19 surges in new parts of America, while our politics seem as broken as ever. Despite this wave of bad news, there may be cause for hope. According to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll, more than six in 10 Americans believe that America needs to “continue making changes” to ensure blacks and whites have equal rights. As hopeful as this seems, the road to racial equality in America is littered with false hope, empty promises, short-attention spans, and weak stomachs for change. This makes Black Americans skeptical that America will really take its medicine this time.

Every Black American I know, myself included, is wondering: When will the goodwill for Black Lives Matter convert to apathy or even hostility? We are skeptical because for generations we have had to exist within an America that, as Frederick Douglass once said, “is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.” We could not have honest conversations about race, the confederacy, and white supremacy because America refused to be honest about those very topics. Moreover, Black America’s deep-seated skepticism is rooted in an intimate familiarity with America’s patented racial inflection point cycle — which always ends with lost ground, lost confidence, and lost heart.

This time can be different, but we must tell the truth about race and white supremacy and move beyond over-diagnosing the problem.

We know the diagnosis. The confederacy is racist. White supremacy surrounds us. Racism and racial bias infiltrate all aspects of our society. And when we know the problem, we are then required to take our medicine. And that involves support for a truth and reconciliation process that facilitates a conversation we have avoided for 400 years. Taking our medicine requires counting the cost of generational wealth stripped from some and diverted to others, due to racist laws, policies, and state-sanctioned practices. If your elected officials do not support such processes, find out why.

This time can be different, but we must change racist laws and policies — and everyone, the reader included, has a role to play in making that happen. For one, we must redesign the entire building and not just apply new paint to our dilapidated halls of justice. We must envision an architecture of justice that is supremely just. Taking our medicine means ushering in a new era of public safety where the odds of receiving fair treatment are not a function of how many mobile devices are present. Candid camera should not be the source of police accountability. As the federal Justice in Policing Act awaits Senate action, mayors and district attorneys have a strong role to play in making local reforms become reality.

In addition, we must strengthen our K-12 and higher education systems. ZIP codes should determine your mail, not your future. And acquiring higher education should not send an entire generation to debtor’s prison. We must strengthen our voter protection laws and crash through barriers to the ballot box that political leaders unabashedly tout as we speak. Taking our medicine also includes pushing for economic security, fair housing, an accurate census, sensible and humane immigration laws, confronting the dispensers of hate, and so much more. These are steps that local, state, and federal officials could take right now, and voters should hold them accountable for failing to do so.

This time can be different, but corporate America must do its fair share. Since “disruption” has become the term du jour in the business world, it is time for companies to take their medicine and disrupt their own houses. Flowery press statements about strength through diversity are hollow mockery if the boards and c-suites of these corporations fail to represent the very diversity that they champion. Corporate leaders must do what they say. Unless what they say involves creating diversity positions that are mere toothless show ponies to trot out on Martin Luther King birthday commemorations. Instead, corporate leaders should infuse these positions with authority and resources to hold business lines accountable. Beyond that, boards should tie executive compensation to DEI benchmarks. Oh, and the homogeneous boards must change, too. These are steps that corporate leaders could take right now, and employees, shareholders, and consumers should hold them accountable.

Doctors warn patients that failure to take the full course of medicine could result in a resurging, contagious, and drug-resistant sickness. America has seen this before: Emmett Till, Rodney King, Medgar Evers, four little girls in a Birmingham church, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tony McDade, and so many others. These previous racial inflection points resulted in America taking a partial course of its anti-racist prescription, only to see white supremacy roar back with a renewed ferocity and lethality. America has been sick for 400 years and cannot afford another partial recovery. It’s well-past time for this nation to take its medicine — no matter how jagged and bitter the pill may be to swallow.

Allyn Brooks-LaSure is executive vice president for communications at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.