The insurrectionists who infiltrated the Capitol on January 6, 2021, elevated some of the most heinous symbols of hate and racism from our nation’s past and seared them into our present. The hangman’s noose posted in the heart of our nation’s capital. The Confederate flag being carried through the Capitol Rotunda – the heart of our democracy.
On January 6, the world watched America’s racial paradox play out in the police response to the rioters. The disparities between the show of force against Black Lives Matter protesters over the last several years and those who invaded the Capitol a few days ago reveal the deep racial challenge we face as a nation. When diverse groups of protestors gather—consisting of people who identify as white, Black, Latinx, Asian American, indigenous, trans, non-binary, queer, disabled, immigrant, or other—the state’s response often is far more aggressive than it was outside the Capitol. The disparity shouts the truth that the grand experiment of the United States is ongoing, that the experience for all Americans, especially Black Americans, remains unequal and at risk.
The Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity seeks to address these issues of violence, police-community relationships, and racial injustice. We recognize that structural inequalities, historical anti-Blackness, and institutional racism are best addressed with education, activism, and responsible leadership. Regardless of political affiliation, we must acknowledge that our actions in these next days and weeks will influence the future our students inherit.
Before his death last year, the Honorable John Lewis, referencing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote of the work required to ensure the rights of all people: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”
There are signs of hope. In less than 10 days, this nation will swear in its first African- American, first South-Asian American, and first woman Vice President. The day before the invasion of the Capitol, Georgia, once a flagship of the Confederacy, elected its first Jewish and Black senators. We can be hopeful in the future of our democracy when fairness prevails.
We owe it to ourselves, to our nation, and to our students to build up our democracy. In the end, as Shirley Chisholm reminds us, “You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines...You make progress by implementing ideas.”
At Oberlin and as a nation, we must all learn from January 6, 2021, reflect, then stand up and get to work, together, to build and improve upon the Beloved Community.
Meredith Gadsby and Bill Quillen
Co-Chairs, Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity & Diversity