I am a mother and grandmother of a black son and grandson, and I have never been more afraid for their future than I am right now.
The recent, blatant killings of both Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd for no reason other than the color of their skin, and the white woman in Central Park who told police a black man was attacking her when he was simply asking her to obey the park's dog-leash law, have stirred up with new intensity the internal rage I felt as a young black girl growing up in white America.
I remember watching the civil-rights movement on television with my parents who had migrated from South Carolina to New York to give their children better lives. The TV footage showed protesters being chased by dogs and water-hosed as they marched for civil rights. I could not quite understand what was happening because, in my young world, I had not experienced racism growing up in Harlem, a community at the time of only blacks and Hispanics, not the gentrified neighborhood of today. In those days, Harlem was a community of family; we looked out for one another.
My parents explained to me what was happening and told me about their experiences in the South. My father was born in 1912, my mother 1916; both had no more than a third-grade education. I never forgot their stories, living through segregation laws of the South.
Mission to Fight for Rights
The murder of George Floyd incenses every fiber of my soul. As president of Communications Workers of America Local 1180, where 90 percent of my members are people of color, it has been my mission since I first became an activist more than 40 years ago to fight for the civil rights of all who have been disenfranchised in this country.
America is in trouble. The horrific brutality that we see some police officers repeatedly impose on black men is despicable. When cops believe they are the judge and jury, the be-all-and-end-all of the American justice system, there is clearly a problem. They have no right to kill black men and women "just because" and then think they can get away with it since they are white. This shows how little value is placed on the life of a black person—someone who might just be your neighbor out for a jog. Someone's child, brother, husband, father.
But the real problem is that America does not have a plan to correct these 400-plus years of disparate treatment on all levels for black Americans. Our country has a deep-rooted systemic problem going back as far as slavery when blacks were bought and sold as free labor to build this country. Black men and women have been killed for no apparent reason for decades. The only difference now is that everyone has a smart phone and records it. The proof lies in the video—and that's what is so maddening! Even with hardcore proof in cases like Rodney King and Eric Garner, the justice system still does not work for black Americans. We see this time and time again.
Still Second-Class Citizens
Today, as I watch young people rallying, crying, screaming, and unfortunately sometimes even acting violently and looting—neither of which I condone—I understand their rage. When you live every day knowing that the color of your skin makes you a second-class citizen and puts a target on your back, it adds tremendous stress to your life. Black youth are educated differently. We earn less than our white counterparts doing similar jobs. Blacks do not have equal access to quality health care or housing, and clearly the justice system works against anyone whose skin is not white.
However, I believe America is about to reap what it sows. I worry about the future for generations to come, including that of my grandson. We are tired of hearing the promises of politicians who are beholden to corporate America and refuse to do what is needed to bring about real change. It's one thing to talk the talk; it's another to walk the walk. Martin Luther King Jr. knew it in the 1960s when he said, "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
We have been living under a stay-at-home mandate since March, and now millions of Americans are unemployed. That's millions of people who don't know what their future is going to look like post pandemic. What we do know, however, is that restlessness and boredom and uncertainty and confinement are all taking their toll. Anxiety and stress are at their peak. America is sitting on a powder keg that is beginning to explode because we have no real leadership coming from the top.
Black Americans are tired of hearing that all lives matter, because if that were true, then black lives would matter, too. And they don't. As a country, we need to recognize the problem and stop the lynchings. That knee on George Floyd's neck only replaces the rope they used to hang us with. These inequities must end. The White House must stop painting us as thugs, and so, too, must the media.
America must understand that black people are tired of sitting back, being quiet, and going along with the status quo. It's not going to work anymore.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter, King said. And I agree. So, it's time to #speakout, #standup, and let the world know that while #alllivesmatter, so, too, do #blacklivesmatter!
Gloria Middleton is President of Communications Workers of America Local 1180. She is the first woman and first African-American elected to lead the 9,000-member union comprised of both public- and private-sector workers.
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