Real Change Takes Real Commitment

Illustration by Todd Urban

Say you attended a peaceful rally with 10,000 other passionate people, socially distancing on the lawn of the Statehouse. The Mayor told you to hold him accountable. The City Council declared racism a public health crisis. Your favorite organization made a statement. You witnessed news footage of police joining in protests at the Governor’s mansion. Maybe you even got involved in a comment argument with an actual racist and felt your heart race with the exhilaration of justice. You finally watched the documentary 13th. If you’re lucky, you have a somewhat close black friend or colleague, someone you felt comfortable enough to reach out to ask for pointers on finding out more about the black experience. Your book club shifted around the proposed schedule and you’ve had some passionate discussions on White Fragility. You are way more comfortable saying Black Lives Matter. Now what?

Talks of defunding the police make you a bit nervous. You’ve only really witnessed them harming a couple of black men, and you really don’t know the whole story, so you don’t want to comment without all the facts. Police reform just makes more sense to you, because we still live in a pretty violent city and you want to remain safe. In Minneapolis, charges have been filed in the George Floyd case. Breonna Taylor, killed by Louisville police, got her own law. The officer’s name has been released in the murder of Dreasjon Reed. Things seem to be slowly getting back to normal. Which is in fact the worst thing that can happen for Black Lives.

I wish I could say I was excited for the movement that seems to have pushed this city to finally act. I’m not. I have been a part of too many calls of righteousness and justice from the white community. Witnessed firsthand how quickly interest falls by the wayside. I have seen it with the ill-conceived “Families Belong Together” rally. Where a few people saw images of children in cages at the border and decided they needed to take a stand. Thousands showed up to help stop families from being separated but never put in work with calls to abolish ICE, reform immigration, or even end detention in the first place. The fact that the organizers had to be advised to consider adding people of color to their roster of speakers was an indication to me that this was simply a moment of good intentions and not really a call to action. I have seen what happened at the Women’s March, where trans women were excluded from the conversation all together. Many of the women calling for justice now shamed and ostracized the very leaders of Indy 10 BLM for bringing up racial justice at a women’s march.

What can be done differently, this go around? In Dr. King’s last book, Where Do We Go From Here, he writes, “White America was ready to demand that the Negro should be spared the lash of brutality and coarse degradation, but it has never been truly committed to helping him out of poverty, exploitation or all forms of discrimination.” Every single time there has been a shift in consciousness within the white community, it flattens once it comes down to evoking real action.

Racism is a hard pill to swallow when you see how saturated it is into American culture, history, and society. Yet, it is that vastness that gives us the opportunity to create real, tangible change. There are not many facets of life that racism doesn’t have a finger on, explicitly or implicitly. This is so much bigger than policing practices. If we are to turn this moment into a real movement, we need every organization to take a real look at their practices. Reform within individual institutions will create a culture of change that will not only benefit black lives, but the lives of every single human it services. All work can become racial justice work if you take the time to shift the focus to benefit the communities that currently have the least amount of access. For example, if we were to create policy that guaranteed an uninsured homeless undocumented trans person had access to the same healthcare that an upper-middle-class white male CEO has, we would change the entire culture of the medical field. This can be done within real-estate protocols, marketing divisions, hiring practices, HOAs, every single boardroom, classroom curriculum, accounting firms, redistricting, and so much more.

This is a time to make a commitment to end this cycle of oppression and truly evaluate what lens you have been looking through. It is a call for reform on all levels. We need more to follow the lead of Alexis Ohanian and step down from their positions to create room for change. We will need champions to lead the way in their own work, to shift the culture of inclusion and equity that will create a real movement. Every home, business, and organization has the chance to shift the narrative. It will take all of us deciding that going back to what we were is no longer acceptable. Until then, all these sentiments for black lives will be nothing more than a whisper in the wind. It is time we will be able to step past chaos into community.

Tatjana Rebelle is a member of Kheprw Institute’s Cafe Creative, the Resilience Schools Coordinator for Earth Charter Indiana, and the founder/curator of VOCAB Indy.