OP-ED: Systematic Racism Goes Well Beyond Police Brutality

in by

The Black Lives Matter movement may be the largest in American history. As many as 26 million people of all colors participated in marches sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others. White people who thought racism was occasional hyperbole took to the streets. It brought tears to my eyes; maybe they were beginning to get it. However, it’s way too soon for liberal Whites to pat themselves on the back. While grateful, I urge my White brothers and sisters to consider what else about systemic racism should set them off.  

African Americans have been disenfranchised by institutional racism and murdered by people in uniforms, business suits, and overalls. This time murder was witnessed on big and small screens while most of the country was hunkered down at home because of the global pandemic.  People are righteously indignant about police brutality. Most White people believe that law enforcement keeps law-abiding citizens safe and find it hard to believe those same people torture and kill Black people. Americans want to believe these victims did something to cause the police to target them. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was playing in a park by himself with a toy gun when a police officer shot him dead two seconds after he got out of his car. So brutal was Abner Louima’s torture that he had three surgeries after New York City police officers beat then sodomized him with a broom handle that they also jammed into his mouth.  

Historically, abject racism is followed by a period of indignation, followed by a “what about me-ism” for all non-White people. White women then clamor to be the “minority” worthy of recompense even though the “Karens” are evidence of the danger they’ve always posed to African Americans. Emmett Till is one of thousands murdered because of them. The playbook for oppression was written for us and perfected to create huge disparities. Average African American family wealth is $17,160 compared to $171,000 for the average White family, according to the Brookings Institute. 

We’re not immigrants. This is our homeland. African Americans are the second most indigenous people in the U.S. We exist only here, as native-born people. Be angry that enslaved people built this country’s wealth and accomplished the impossible despite racism. When value and intelligence are measured by wealth, obscuring our contributions reinforces the myth of White superiority. Why doesn’t that make you as mad as seeing African Americans being imprisoned, being impoverished, being marginalized? 

Be indignant about not knowing that Crispus Attucks was the first man to die in the Revolutionary War, and that his image does not appear on our money, when all but one of our founding fathers who do were slave owners. Shouldn’t there be a national holiday for our country’s first female self-made millionaire, Madame C. J. Walker? With all the talk about plasma during the pandemic, did you know that Dr. Charles Drew invented the technique for preserving blood plasma and transfusions but died because he couldn’t get the live-saving blood transfusion he pioneered? 

Protest the absence of African American artists in museums because somehow you assumed that was how it should be. Be mad that you don’t know the portrait on the Roosevelt dime was not credited to its maker, Selma Burke, and most likely you’ve never seen her work in a major museum. Be enraged that the iconic painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” was first painted by Robert Douglass Jr., and copied by a German artist whose work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum. They are among the millions of African Americans whose accomplishments are discounted, stolen, or forgotten. 

When you see only one or two African American coworkers, or chief executive officers, or lawyers or doctors or any profession, be angry enough to ask why, and then challenge the implicit bias that has African American employment currently higher than 15 percent. We’re 13 percent of the population and 60 percent of COVID-19 deaths because so many of us are “essential” workers. Why didn’t that make you take to the streets, paint “Black Lives Matter,” get angry and say enough is enough?

Racism is its ugliest when it results in death. It is nevertheless as insidious as the denial of our equality, and as dismissive of our defiance to be annihilated by systemic attempts to make us invisible. I get that incarceration rates capture the headlines, but be angry that you’ve been tricked into believing that’s how it should be when you know deep down it’s from implicit bias. Be angry at the micro-aggressions we suffer when we climb the ladder of success in any and every field, and that some think our success is based on anything other than hard work. 

We are optional. White Americans can go through their entire lives and not deal with us in any meaningful way. That is the daily evidence of systemic racism. Be pissed about that.

New Jersey resident, Kimberly Camp’s, paintings and dolls have appeared in more than 100 solo and group exhibitions, including the American Craft Museum, Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, International Sculpture Center, University of Michigan, and Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, and the three-year traveling exhibition, “Uncommon Beauty in Common Objects,” where her work was featured on the cover of the exhibition catalog.