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Op-ed: White people must contribute to real emancipation

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

Sheridan Mitchell Lorenz | The Galveston News | June 18, 2020

As a white woman, I haven’t experienced the fear and indignity of being treated as if I’m less human because of my skin color. I write this knowing that my perspective is limited and influenced by the accident of my skin color. I know that “white silence kills,” and I’m complicit if I don’t use my voice to acknowledge and speak out against systemic racism.

The murder of George Floyd stoked profound rage throughout America and the world, and gave rise to protests, unlike any witnessed during my lifetime. People of all races, ages, and socio-economic groups are protesting against this brutal act, and even more against the systems that have given rise to such abuse.

This is a critical turning point in our country. It’s time for us — the white community — to insist on and fight for the changes that must be made to heal the deep, persistent inequities in our society. It’s time to put an end to a system that has allowed privileges associated with “whiteness,” and disadvantages associated with “color” and ethnicity, to endure and adapt over time.

Systemic racism isn’t just about deliberate acts of discrimination. It’s also about favoritism and bias, woven into the fabric of our social, economic and political systems. It’s about systems of oppression that continue to benefit white people. We’ve seen the ugly truth of overt racism. Still, we must also recognize the more subtle racism hidden in our choices and decisions.

Do we support integrated housing? Do we recruit, employ and promote the descendants of enslaved Africans? Do we support Black leadership and listen to Black voices at all levels of decision-making? Do we vote for judges who sentence white and Black offenders equally? Do we decry inequitable and discriminatory health, education and justice systems? In our everyday choices, are we willing to give up our power and privilege to invite others to the table, to share in the “American dream?”

It’s time to right this 400-year-old wrong. It’s America’s most profound contradiction and shame, and white folks have been part of the problem for far too long. Now, we must be part of the solution. A good place to start is by reading “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice,” a story published in Medium by Corinne Shutack. The article makes clear that racial justice is a marathon, not a sprint. It also clarifies that our work as white people — to fix what we broke and have left broken — isn’t done until Black Americans tell us it’s done.

Today’s celebration of Juneteenth commemorates the date June 19, 1865, when a Union army general publicly read the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston to all enslaved Africans.

Today, 155 years later, real emancipation for Black Americans hasn’t happened.

It has taken too long for us to take our knees off the necks of our Black neighbors. Let them breathe — empower them to thrive and flourish as equals.

Sheridan Mitchell Lorenz is a board member of the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation and co-founder and board member of Galveston Sustainable Communities Alliance.


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