In light of recent events in Ferguson, New York City, Phoenix, and elsewhere, the nonprofit I work at organized a discussion for us yesterday morning. We were asked to answer some tough questions: How did we feel about the recent events? Sad, angry, confused, hopeful? Do people have control over their own destiny? And my personal favorite… is social justice achievable?
Well, it depends what you mean by “social justice.” It depends how you define “achievable.” To me, social justice looks like a world in which opportunities are legitimately equal for everyone, a world in which every person is treated like they matter. It means that if two people are in love and they want to get married, they can. It means that if a person does not pose any threat to a cop, that person will not be killed. It means that if somebody suffers from mental illness, he or she will not be shamed but instead will receive the proper help.
Can I realistically envision a world in which all of these problems are solved? At the moment, I don’t know. But the question doesn’t ask whether it will happen quickly. It doesn’t ask whether it will happen easily. It asks whether or not it can happen. And until I find a good reason for why it can’t, I’m going to believe that it can. Why? Because the definitions are not what’s important. What’s important to me is that I want to be the kind of person who says yes. I have to be the kind of person who believes that anything is possible. Those are the only people who ever make real changes, and who don’t give up hope.
With regard to the cause of the murder of Michael Brown and the other related cases, I do not know whether these people were killed because the police were racist. I don’t know whether it might be overt racism or covert racism. Maybe the issue is the media, or maybe it’s police brutality; I know that I (white, female, clearly a college student at the time) have been verbally abused by the police. Maybe it’s all of the above.
But I want to end on a note of hope. All of the protests currently happening involve people who feel outraged that a white cop would kill a black person for without a legitimate reason. I may not have been around 60 or 70 years ago, but I’m guessing that back then such an incident would not have made headlines. Our country is young; less than 200 years ago black people were slaves. When my parents were young, the only jobs they saw black people in were house cleaning and driving. Today we are absolutely a far cry from equality, but in 2008 and again in 2012 America elected a black person to be our president, and now American citizens refuse to sit idly by while a white cop does not get indicted for killing a black person. That’s progress.
“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”
Let’s get there.
PS: While in some places racism is still overt, it is very often nowadays covert, or subconscious. Want to learn more? At this website you can take a survey that will give you information on whether you possess any covertly racist tendencies.