The death of George Floyd fits a tragic pattern of violence against black people. This pattern should leave none of us indifferent.
I grew up white in colonial Africa. Unlike in nearby South Africa, there was no apartheid. In fact, integration was the official policy, and interracial marriages were not uncommon. Yet, racism was pervasive, permeating all aspects of life and culture in both obvious and subtle ways. Social and economic inequality was clearly tied to race, as was political power. As a matter of law, native languages were discouraged. White privilege was the unspoken norm.
As life took me away from Africa to Europe, and ultimately to the US, race remained an uncomfortable sub-text in the memories of my childhood and teenager years. The color of one’s skin was not a topic of interest to me at that time. My friends covered a gradation of skin shades, and I valued them on factors other than race. Girls were or not attractive to me independently of their skin color. But no blacks lived in the multi-family building where my parents rented an apartment. As I entered college, my circle of friends became predominantly white, as few non-whites had higher ed opportunities. The one prominent black member of our colonial government was shamelessly featured as proof of integration.
Aided by time and distance, it is clear that I grew up in a society that tried to have it both ways: claim integration, while perpetuating white dominance. When I first came to the US, I was not naively expecting a racial paradise. I was aware of the hideous story of slavery, and of the civil rights struggles. But I expected more of the country that fought a civil war to terminate slavery, denounced South Africa’s apartheid, and instituted Affirmative Action.
I was attracted then, as now, by the concept of a ‘melting pot’ of races and national origins, in a society without discrimination. The US laws give us the framework and opportunity to be such a society. These laws enable fully integrated communities, where each of us is judged by our values and actions, not by the color of our skin. Our reality, however, is different.
Racism exists. Racism kills. Racism poisons our unity and impedes our progress as a nation. Racism might have elected, in Mr. Trump, the most unfit and destabilizing president of our history.
Racism, my fellow citizens, is unacceptable and inexcusable. For those valuing the economy above all things, racism is even counterproductive, as it keeps way too many Americans from reaching their potential, or even self-sufficiency. More fundamentally, though, racism is morally wrong, and profoundly unfair—in any and all of its forms and contexts.
Racism must stop!
The solution is in each of us. How we act, how we feel, how we truly accept that we are no more or less than others based on race or any other common factors of bias. And, yes, the solution is also on how we vote. This November, please say no to racism and bigotry.
— Antonio Baptista