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Community Voices (Reiff): Much work to be done after protests end to ensure black lives matter in America l COMMENTARY

The Black Lives Matter movement has galvanized an unprecedented awareness of racism in America. History will debate why the murder of George Floyd has exploded into sustained protests worldwide. Perhaps the coronavirus, an explicitly racist president, and a rash of recorded police violence created a perfect storm. It unleashed the fury of enduring systemic oppression and violence rained down on Black Americans, not only by individual white persons but by vast institutions that have intentionally denied equal rights and opportunities. It is not just about racist police. It is about a racist culture. 

Black Lives Matter has attracted incredibly diverse individuals and organizations. African Americans have welcomed white allies. The protests and rallies are a true coalition of millions of multiracial Americans, from massive gatherings in large cities to as many as 300 folks in downtown Westminster and Sykesville, and in other small towns in Carroll County. Most of our local public officials, apart from some of our state delegates, have expressed solidarity with the movement. Corporations are changing business practices from branding to employment policies. Everyone seems to be on board. 

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But protests are easy. Making perfunctory corporate overtures are so long overdue that I question the sincerity in many cases. The NFL’s welcome back to Colin Kaepernick reeks of hypocrisy. After destroying his career, they conveniently are now “woke.” 

What happens when the protests end? We have seen signs of positive change, but we’ve also seen a white backlash, sadly, starting with our president. We will need to dig in, roll up our sleeves, and do some heavy lifting for a long time to come. We will not “fix” 400 years of racism in a few months or years. This is a fight that will rely on generations to come. 

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We need to listen. White people do not have the right to dictate Black narratives. We must be willing to have difficult conversations. Talking about race and racism is uncomfortable, especially when our preconceived notions are challenged. Systemic racism is rooted from preconceived notions. If we are not willing to change, we are lost. 

We need to engage in institutional change, beginning with policing but including education, business practices, housing segregation, and relationship building everywhere. 

We need to examine our hearts and souls every day. Do we really think that two unequal Americas is the best we can do? If we cannot eliminate the scourge of racism in America today, we certainly have not lived up to the tenets of most religions, including Christianity. Do you believe the Bible Trump brandished justifies racism? Sadly, if that is what you believe, you may not be able to join any meaningful conversation.  

Our collective voices are being heard. Now, we need to develop and act on a strategic plan. The first step is to vote a racist president out of office. If Joe Biden does not win, BLM will have to face a bully intent on maintaining the status quo of African Americans at best. Biden has committed to providing support from the top, and we need to hold him accountable for providing it. 

I was 12 or 13 when I first heard Stokely Carmichael use the term, Black Power. It scared me. I thought I embraced the civil right movement, but like most white people at that time, I did not think that white society needed to be confronted so radically.  

Ironically, the Black Panthers changed my outlook and understanding. White society focused solely on the pictures of Panthers with guns and denounced them as terrorists. But their militancy lay in their commitment to defend and protect their neighborhoods in Oakland, home of some of the most insidious racist policing in the country. The police were not protecting Black neighborhoods. The Panthers did. They provided free food, developed educational programs, and urged Black residents to stand up for themselves. This was Black Power.

Black Power goes far beyond self-protection. It does not entail violent struggles. Black Power is about a nation where Black CEOs, professionals of all stripes and the working class become part of our institutional fabric. Black Power is about equity in opportunity. Think of the social, political, and economic capital wasted in a racist society. Our country needs to be accountable for its wrongdoing. More Black Power means a more prosperous, educated, informed and just America — a better America for all of us where Black lives truly matter.  

Henry Reiff is a community activist who writes from Westminster. Reach him at hreiff@mcdaniel.edu.

For any member of the community who would like to submit a guest community voices column for publication consideration, it should be approximately 700 words and sent to bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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