So many people have reached out to me saying they’re sorry that this has been happening to my family. Well don’t be sorry because this has been happening to my family for a long time, longer than I can account for.… It happened to Emmett Till, Emmett Till is my family. It happened to Philando, Mike Brown, Sandra… I don’t want your pity… I want change.
Letetra Wideman, Sister of Jacob Blake
Letetra Wideman’s charge to us following the shooting of her brother in Kenosha, Wisc., captures the urgency of our time. Consider the tragedies and the repeated outcries that brought us to this inflection point.
George Floyd’s murder prompted one of the largest ongoing mass public protests in the history of the United States. The nine minutes and 29 seconds of video footage taken by Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old Black woman, was the catalyst. Darnella Frazier, the brave young woman who testified during the trial, struggles with insomnia and guilt after bearing witness for the world, not once but twice, by capturing the horror Georgle Floyd’s murder on video and sharing what she saw on the witness stand. She told us all, “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles.”
This nation has seen indisputable evidence disregarded before. In the cases of Rodney King, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and so many others. We still mourn Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and Makiyah Bryant.
We must continue to pull our society forward. Structural racism is not vanquished in one verdict. Accountability matters, and yesterday, one person was held accountable in a system desperately in need of transformational change. We continue to demand justice, to organize, agitate, and make “good trouble,” in the words of the late Congressman John Lewis.
Black people, Latinx people, Asian/ Asian American/Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and other communities have been working individually and collectively for justice against structural racism within a society that continues to suffer the impact of the enslavement of African Americans. We have a penal system that disproportionately targets Black and brown people. Despite this, we continue to fight for social change, to hold those who violate the human rights of Black people and communities of color accountable. We are not there yet, but we need to be.
Today we mark a sobering “victory.” George Floyd was a father, a brother, son, nephew, a Black man, a human being. He is now dead because he was murdered. This was true before yesterday’s verdict. We will not invoke the name of his murderer, but we will celebrate his life and the consolation this verdict brings to his family and those who loved him. We remain committed to the work of preparing our students to overturn obstacles and to the full realization that all people have the right to investments in their communities and to live free of institutional abuses, racial terror and violence. We teach. We learn. We organize.
Letetra Wideman is right. People of color don’t want pity. They want—and need—change. And, they shall have it.
Special Assistant to the President on Racial Equity and Diversity, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Comparative American Studies, cochair of Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity
Dean of the Conservatory, cochair of Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity