Racism is the greatest threat to democracy today
Grandison is a member of the Seattle Human Rights Commission and board chairman of the Data-Driven Institute, a nonprofit that promotes data science to solve public health problems.
Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. All names you have heard in the past month. All Americans who deserve to live and breathe the values America was founded on. All human beings deserving the basic and common courtesies we publicly and externally promote. Unfortunately, they were not afforded the privileges that are extended to the average white American.
If you question that assertion, you likely have the privilege of never having to live your life in constant fear of how others react to you and what they may do to change your life instantly. You have the privilege of firmly believing the police force is present to serve and protect you. You have the privilege of being an individual — with your actions not prejudged by negative racial stereotypes and you not being seen as representatives of your entire race.
We are all patriots. We are all committed to vigorously supporting America and prepared to defend our democracy against its enemies and detractors. Right now, democracy's most formidable enemies and detractors are internal — people, policies and systems. Racism is the greatest threat to democracy today. It is time to live up to our patriotic beliefs and put in the work needed to make America a place where all people are equal.
As a white person, you can be unaware of the racist origins of the American police force. You can ignore the media proactively painting blacks as demonic, super-human, menacing, "more mature," lazy and less deserving of compassion and empathy. You don't get to experience the systems and the networks that exclude the very people who are a bedrock of American prosperity.
You can be unaware of the laws and institutions that have forced generations of servitude, poverty, inequality and despair. You can be blissfully unaware of white Americans breaking every treaty they signed with American Indians, Mexicans and Africans in the pursuit of Manifest Destiny. You can ignore the sadness and sorrow of the genocides — local and global — executed in your name. You can wrap yourself in the flag and recite the talking points that make you feel good about yourself and your fanciful role in the world.
And you can live each day blissfully unaware that a chance encounter may be your last.
What about the American dream for the Indians slaughtered for the land we walk on? What about the American dream for the black slaves that were beaten and brutalized to make your money and deliver your creature comforts? What about the American dream for the Asian immigrants you imprisoned, stole from and demonized? What about the American dream for Latin Americans you put in cages, dehumanize and subject to human trafficking and abuse?
Our country is our values. The Declaration of Independence declares: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
The schizophrenia and hypocrisy of the American experiment rests in the series of lies that we learn as history, which have been embedded into the fabric of everyday life through laws and systems.
It is clear that views of equality in 1776 were aspirational and applied only to white men. It is clear that Indians and the enslaved were "othered" and denied those three unalienable rights. But, approaching 250 years later, the idea of America and the reality of America are still miles apart.
It is now time to address this original sin. It was easy — and remains so — for our government to count a slave as three-fifths of a man, deny veterans' benefits to black and brown soldiers, create Jim Crow laws, institutionalize redlining and incentivize the overseeing of black bodies but the protection of white ones. Now it is squarely the responsibility of white people to collaborate with minority groups to transform the current state of affairs into equitable systems, policies and networks that finally live up to our founding principles.
Those in power are the ones who need to affect change. The powerless can initiate, ignite and press for change, but the powerful control the levers of the system.
As an American, you owe this to every single "other" — in other words, not a white person — to be better, and do better, to finally create a more perfect union.
The system is not broken. It was designed this way. For decades, many black and brown people have raised their voices about the oppression they experience. Many of them have mobilized, identified the ideas that need work, and provided recommendations on what needs to be done.
How do you help? How do you stop America from devolving into one of the nations that it routinely destabilizes? How do you create a better world for you and your kids, and their kids?
First, you must believe and defend your black friends and colleagues. Silence means you are on the side of the oppressor. March towards your path of being anti-racist. In an ecosystem that has racism as a cornerstone, being non-racist is not enough. You must speak up, stand up and risk something to keep this great representative democracy called America.
Second, you must overhaul the institutions that multiply and reinforce the racist ideals of our forebears. It is time to overhaul the justice system, the financial system, the police system, the health care system, the prison system, the education system and the housing system — for starters. What steps can you take to make those systems anti-racist? Should asset forfeiture be examined? Should funding sources for the police be revamped? Should police unions be reformed? Should "broken window" policing be stamped out? Look deeply. Pick your favorite issue in your favorite system or institution.
Third, focus on policy and policymakers. It is time to elect officials who align with our principles and then write laws creating this equitable and just society we all deserve. This applies to everyone — whether white, black, brown or Asian.
It is time to mobilize to elect and create the country and society we all desire and deserve.
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