The first six months of 2020 have marked an entirely new era of world history, and unlike current history textbooks, it cannot be whitewashed or silenced. The whole world now lives carefully, accustomed to staying home for unusual amounts of time and roaming stores with the bottom half of our faces covered. This is the “new normal” when it comes to public health and safety, and it has not come easy. Protests have erupted on behalf of those who believe masks are an infringement on human rights; those who pick and choose when to scream “my body, my choice!” If an uproar of this magnitude can erupt over simple cloth coverings that preserve the health of the world, many activists begin to wonder: how does this bode for the fight against systemic racism?
There’s no question regarding whether the U.S. needs a “new normal” when it comes to combating racism, but there is a question of how it can come to fruition when there is a population of old-fashioned thinkers that grasp at straws to maintain their racist ideologies. If a statue of a Confederate statue is torn down, it is “erasing U.S. history.” If a Washington D.C. street is renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza, it is a “symbol of hate.” If protesters peacefully resist the unlawful murders of Black people, they are “radical, over-political troublemakers.” While a large, progressive majority of people around the world reject these ideas, the ones who embrace them pose an issue for the cause. They are the ones who need to face the prospect of a “new normal” more than anybody else.
Progress cannot come without effort. A common idea among many is that their actions are insignificant in the long run, so changing their ways are fruitless. This way of thinking occurs during presidential elections, it has occurred throughout quarantine, it is occurring right now, as the Black Lives Matter movement is more prevalent than ever, but it also neglects to consider that there are millions of other people who think the same way, and that is why individual actions matter. Countless Black people have been murdered because of institutionalized racism: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, and too many more have fallen victim to this in the past year alone. Thinking that individual actions will not help their causes completely discredits their deaths; they did not endure hatred-fueled deaths for the world to feel uncomfortable by conversations about racism, or refuse to take action in a time where signing a petition can help a million times more than silence. What is needed is a new way of living where each and every person adjusts their ways to create environments that are completely free of racially-charged hostility, but how can we engage in this “new normal?”
Listening to Black Voices
A “new normal” must begin with discarding the common feeling that if you have not personally experienced something, very few people have. Black people have their own stories to tell regarding their experience with racism, discrimination, and prejudice that are valid no matter how many people in the world might not experience it to this extent, or at all. Now is not the time to get defensive; this means no more statements such as “I would never do something like that,” “There’s no way that happened,” or “It’s not that bad.” Oppressed groups are the best narrators of their struggles, and for anybody who is not Black to insert themselves into a conversation about Black Lives Matter with an “everyone faces struggles in life” attitude is dangerously silencing the very voices that are meant to lead us in combating racism. White people, for example, can absolutely face hardships in life; this is in no way equal to the struggles Black people face because White people will never suffer because of the color of their skin.
Listening to and amplifying Black voices does not mean becoming Black voices, it means uplifting them. The rise of global Black Lives Matter protests have brought the demands of Black people to the forefront, but rioters and opportunists have led to the misrepresentation of these demands as well as performative activism on behalf of many government officials and people in power. While sentiments such as removing racist episodes of various shows or painting a street to say Black Lives Matter are important, they do nothing to solve the racism that oppresses and kills Black people. Performative activism such as this perpetuates the phenomenon among people in power that the struggles of Black people do not exist until they are willing to admit that they do. At a community level, we can aid Black people in the fight to get their demands heard by allowing them to be at the forefront of change; follow their lead when it comes to protests, do not overstep boundaries, and remove the idea that the pain of Black people have to be validated by white allies.
Accepting When You Are Wrong
Nobody is born racist. They are taught by their relatives, the media, and school curriculums that paint white figures as saints. So many children are taught that Black people are murderers, thugs, violent, and mean; they are taught that European features are beautiful and that any hairstyle a Black person wears is unprofessional. While it will take work for those who have seen racism as nothing but a word their entire lives to unlearn these ideas, self-awareness is a crucial part of what the “new normal” should look like. We have to normalize being thankful when racist ways or opinions are corrected, rather than being offended. We have to understand that learning a new way of thinking is not someone being “brainwashed,” it is discarding outdated ideologies that have been hurting Black people for centuries.
It is not the job of Black people to educate us. We live in an age of digital information, where knowledge is accessible on a widespread basis to most people in well-developed countries. There is an unfair expectation placed on Black people that demands they explain and justify Black Lives Matter and all of its demands for a new, anti-racist world; this creates the idea that Black people owe explanations or conversations about racism when it is something that should be condemned in the first place. While there are Black people who are willing to help educate others, this method of gaining knowledge usually does nothing but resurface feelings of pain and anger in Black people and perpetuate the idea that their struggles need to be explained to be real.
The simple solution to educating yourself in a more ethical way would be to use social media and the internet to your advantage. Social media holds multitudes of Black people that have resources and stories to share that bring light to various racial issues or even personal fights that Black people are struggling with. Various topics that can educate you about the current fight for Black lives as well as the history of it are all available online; searching up articles about proper allyship, local organizations to contribute to, and various Black activists and their stories are all ways to gain further education. Movies, documentaries, books, and podcasts are at the disposal of public education and should be used as ways to be fully informed on why Black Lives Matter is something that needs widespread support.
Removing Microaggressions from your Daily Routine
Microaggressions are actions characterized by subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of marginalized groups. Whether it is known or not, everybody has succumbed to the use of microaggressions towards Black people at some point in their lives because of how deeply ingrained they are into the public conscience. For the most part, microaggressions come off as compliments to those who have not learned about them, but tend to hold racist undertones that have been perpetuated by centuries of racist societies. “You’re pretty for a Black person,” or “You act white,” are microaggressions that hold deeper meanings and are more than backhanded compliments. Implying that a Black person is beautiful despite them being Black maintains the idea that Black features are undesirable or are not the standard; saying a Black person acts white is saying that there is a way to “act” Black, which has been characterized throughout history by racist narratives as unprofessional or “ghetto.” Microaggressions provide a way to constantly shame Black people for being Black when they should be able to embrace their culture the same way that society embraces the lives of White people.
Microaggressions go past thinly veiled “compliments,” however. There are forms of White supremacy that are covert and overt, as well as socially unacceptable and socially acceptable. While hate crimes, racial slurs, and blackface are overt and socially unacceptable, we have somehow created a false narrative that mass incarceration of Black people, over-policing of Black neighborhoods, calling the police on Black people because they are “suspicious,” and hundreds of other actions are socially acceptable because the dangers of them are covert and less surface-level than hate organizations. We have to learn these hundreds of microaggressions and move forward into a “new normal” by detecting them and calling them out.
Understanding the Systems Built to Oppress Black People
Since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, many people have regarded the phrase “ACAB” to be more offensive than the systemic murders of Black people by police officers. “ACAB”, as well as its numeric counterpart “1312,” stands for “All Cops are Bastards.” The phrase means that while not all cops may necessarily be bad people, they all willingly partake in a system that aims to devalue the lives of POCs rather than to “serve and protect,” as their motto states. Innocent Black people are losing their lives to Black officers who know that they will not receive punishment for their actions, protesters are being sprayed with tear gas and shot with rubber bullets for wanting to end systemic racism and police brutality, and a part of the population continue to refuse to understand how these actions are justifying the use of “ACAB.”
The first United States police force was established in the city of Boston in 1838 and other subsequent cities in the Northern U.S. as a way to replace ineffective watchmen who volunteered to police crime throughout the colonies. While the North used their police departments to protect shop-owners from thieves, the South developed a different form of police organization known as the “Slave Patrol.” The patrol was in charge of chasing down runaway enslaved people and returning them to their owners, using scare tactics to prevent revolts, and issuing disciplines to enslaved people who violated plantation rules. While the country was built by a population of enslaved Black people, the police force was built on oppressing and dehumanizing this population. The police force has always placed capital over protecting and serving, and preserving capital at the time meant to keep enslaved populations enslaved so that corrupt leaders could benefit from free labor. We need to continue to fight for defunding the police, so that the billions of dollars spent on large police departments in minority communities, such as the NYPD, can be allocated to aiding underdeveloped communities. We need to aim for funds to be placed into community de-escalation programs, schools, homelessness, mental health programs, etc.
Realize that this is a Movement, Not a Moment
The first week after the death of George Floyd showed the world how much power social media can truly hold; in the middle of a global pandemic, Black people and allies lobbied together to spread resources, petitions, and organize protests all over the world. The second week after the death of George Floyd showed the true reality of online “activists,” as half of them stopped sharing important articles and signing petitions. While nobody is obligated to post about Black Lives Matter, we live in a time where a single instagram post or tweet can go a long way. Despite the chatter about the movement being reduced to almost nothing in the media, protests have been happening every day since the end of May and activists are still dedicating their social media accounts to uplifting Black stories, organizations, and businesses. The only difference is that performative activists have pulled their focus away from the conversation as to not “drag it out,” but we must continue to shake the table.
As members of Generation Z, we have a lot of power when it comes to social media. We are a generation of progressive youth who aim to lobby for change and racial equality, and are the ones who do everything we can to educate ourselves on Black history and politics to be able to participate in true allyship. Black Lives Matter was not a week-long stunt to wreak havoc across the nation, it is a movement that is finally creating awareness for the centuries of racism Black people have had to endure. In a time like this, there is no room to be uncomfortable by conversations about racism when Black people have had to be uncomfortable by racism itself for years. There is no room to write off the movement as short-lived when police departments have yet to be fully defunded or abolished, murderers are still walking free masked as cops, and Black people continue to be murdered because of the color of their skin. Black Lives Matter as a whole is our “new normal.”
WRITTEN BY: Dylan Follmer
Director of Editing
Dylan is a 16-year old sophomore at Bayonne High School, who displays multiple interests in politics, activism, writing, reading, and journalism.