Global Detroit Blog

Black Lives Matter. America Has Not Resolved Its Racist Legacies

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Philandro Castile, Botham Jean, Trayvon Martin Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner. It’s important to say the names of Black Americans murdered by police and white supremacists. It’s important to understand these are more than names–they are husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors. Lives of people who were loved.

Rodney King, Malice Green, Los Angeles ’92, Detroit ’67, Watts ’65, Harlem ’64, Harlem ’43. The anger and suffering from America’s racism, imbedded in our institutions and systems, extends from 1619 through the end of slavery to modern times. Emmitt Till was murdered in 1955 and the Equal Justice Initiative counts 4,400 lynchings and racially-motivated murders in America during the period from the Civil War to the end of World War II. Police brutality and unequal treatment of Black Americans has a long history and feels as present today as it was 50 years ago.

Black lives matter. America has not resolved its racist legacies.

For more than a month, we have witnessed mass protests across our region–including daily marches in Detroit–across our state, and across our nation. Most of the protests have been peacefully led by a powerful Black Lives Matter movement and the incredible strength and brilliance of young, mostly African American organizers. Protests have been held in every major U.S. city for weeks, but also in mostly-white suburban and some rural communities as well as in immigrant communities like Detroit’s Banglatown. A diverse array of Americans have expressed their outrage, anger, empathy and love. A moment of opportunity, a moment of hope, a moment of reconciliation feels it could be at hand.

Small victories in reforming policing policies are being won.

But much more feels at stake. Black parents worry about the safety of their kids in any environment and have to have conversations about traffic stops and crowds that most white families could never dream of. Racism pervades Black Americans’ experience shopping, dining, applying for a job or seeking a promotion, obtaining a mortgage or business loan, accessing health care, getting an education, simply existing in America.

It’s clear that expressions of empathy are not enough in this moment. It’s time for action and results. It’s time to pursue bold ideas, bold proposals and bold actions. Yes, we need to reform policing policies and, yes, we need to reverse cultural acceptance of the symbols of the Confederacy. But that’s just the beginning. 

We need to be discussing reparations and reconciliation. We need to be talking about new civil rights laws that use disparate impact, instead of overt discrimination or discriminatory intent. We need to be discussing overhauling the systems in America (education, health care, municipal services, etc.) so that a young child’s future is not determined by the color of their skin and zip code in which they live.

Global Detroit’s mission is to build an inclusive regional economy. Inclusion begins with and depends upon racial equity and an end to racism, racist practices and racial injustice. Those of us working to build a more immigrant-inclusive economy and more welcoming community need to be addressing these issues head on. We must be part of the efforts to end white supremacy. We need to be working within our own organizations to acknowledge and address the impacts and issues of being white-led organizations working on immigrant inclusion, but also the unique opportunities and privileges we possess to influence mainstream institutions and policies. We must revisit our program models, our communication frames and our work to ensure that they are creating opportunities for Black Americans and not limited to serving only immigrants. 

Immigrant communities not only experience some of America’s racism and the perpetuation of white supremacy, but we also must acknowledge that many immigrant communities are not immune from inadvertently adopting American attitudes on race or even practicing their own forms of it. So many of the victories, progress and freedoms that immigrants and other groups enjoy have been won because of the civil rights movement led by Black Americans. We even must work to address racism when practiced and perpetuated by immigrant communities, including developing tools to address cultural biases that leave many immigrants unaware of the importance of structural racism. 

And we need to be working within ourselves. This is the civil rights moment we inherited. We look forward to the challenge.