Voices From Selma Are Still Being Heard

In 2020, as I write this Epilogue in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, millions of people in the Unites States and across the globe are marching in protest. Images of the atrocious modern-day lynching of George Floyd by Minneapolis police have gone viral, along with photos of other Black men and women brutalized and murdered by law enforcement. The long list of killings against people of color, and the faces and names of so many of these victims, is more than most people can tolerate. It is clear that state terror, especially executed on Blacks, cannot be denied. And to remain silent is to be complicit. 

Disgusted by White supremacy and its murderous outcomes, more Whites than ever before, especially youth, are on the streets joining in a multiracial coalition. As a White woman, I am hopeful because of this union. 

The scholar Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor points out that the Black Lives Matter movement, which began in the last years of the Obama Administration, laid the groundwork for the current response of demonstrators to ongoing, deadly racism. In brief, BLM awakened millions to the fact that racism is not only interpersonal and about one’s feelings toward another, but systemic and structural. They argue that since before the country’s American revolution, racial division has been able to grow by elites systemically pitting Whites against Blacks, and developing laws and customs to structurally support the antagonisms. Structural mechanisms like segregation, redlining, voter suppression, mass incarceration, taxation that favors the rich and the militarization of the police are just some of the policies the BLM movement is asking to be addressed. 

In its totality, ongoing racist policies that penetrate the entire culture help maintain a racial-class structure with most people of color on the bottom and, since the country’s founding, with elites able to generate power and wealth upward. Most Whites, whether consciously or unconsciously, benefit in this system. And the denigration of Blacks, in this process, has clearly proven deadly to them.

But this does not mean that Whites do not suffer by the racial-class divide. They do. As Dr. Taylor says, they just suffer differently. 

Therefore, it is safe to assume that many of the White protestors have finally come to understand that their lives are also diminished by living in a system founded and sustained by social injustice. Along with BLM, progressive voices in the 2019 primaries helped to awaken this awareness. The candidates’ presentation of massive income inequality, a bloated military budget, the lack of medical care, high student debt, racism, joblessness, climate change, homophobia, and xenophobia, revealed to many that their suffering was not simply due to personal failures, but failures in the broader society. This also shed light on why so many Whites, unable to cope with these realities, have succumbed to “deaths of despair” from opioids, alcoholism, and suicide, reducing White life expectancy rates.

Consequently, the cries on the streets are also a form of solidarity across groups in common struggle. Given that the nation is about to become a “minority-majority country,” this solidarity is long over due.

Though I am currently restricted to my home, as are many other older adults, protesters all across America, who brave the Pandemic on behalf of progressive change, show that Foot Soldiers never die. Thankfully, they come one generation after another. And, confidently, we rely on them to “bend the arc of the universe towards justice.” 

Martin Luther King, who urged us to fight, “the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism,” said:

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable . . . Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions, and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. 

You, too, can be a Foot Soldier. Join the struggle.