Systemic Racism, Solutions and "The True American": A Representative Breakdown and Letter by Founder and CEO of First Ladies of Poverty Foundation, Shatoyia Jones
By: Shatoyia Jones, Personal/Professional/Leadership Development Consultant at FLP Foundation
As a proud African American and American, it hurts to come to the realization that being patriotic for some is simply a flag. It is not fighting or rallying against our government and putting your full faith and trust that it will work for you. It hurts that the most impactful moments in American history are sweeped under a rug to maintain a false sense of cultural superiority and increase economic power and privilege for a small number of people, and I grieve because the people who support the full reliance on our government to do what is right by us (the people) don't understand that the reason for the American democracy is to work for the people. Unfortunately, historically, it has only worked for certain people, and it has never been my people--the people who LITERALLY built and continue to build this country's wealth with our culture, innovation and hard work that has been exploited and appropriated since being brought to this land.
As a Louisiana native (Yes, I am a Southern Belle.), I have experienced the explicit racism and hate that has made my life and the lives of my loved ones unnecessarily more difficult and dangerous than many, if not most, of you will ever imagine.
On paper, I am a stellar American citizen. I'm educated, civil, no criminal history, pay my taxes and on time, I give back to the community, and I work dang hard for what I have, sometimes unnecessarily so, simply because society makes it harder for me (and my loved ones) to get opportunities I am not just qualifed for, but overly qualified for. Overall, everyday I am in pain, because every time I think of the lasting effects of the systematic oppression of people of color -- as a woman of color--a woman of African descent-- there are those who love power, profit and privilege more than they love people. More than they love the preservation of human dignity.
I often go back and forth between wanting to have children because I cannot imagine the pain of birthing and nurturing a beautiful baby boy or girl with beautiful, radiant brown skin--and then worrying every day when they go jogging, go to school, go hang out with friends, go make a grocery run if they are coming home. Not because they are a threat to society [but] simply because of their skin color.
How many of you have this worry when you let your kids live their lives? When they are out with friends, when they are hanging out, when they are making grocery runs? How many of you have to worry about your child not coming home? How many of you worry if your children will be mishandled, severely injured or worse killed without just cause--not just by police but by any ordinary person on the street who hates the sight of or feels threatened by their skin color so much (despite many spending thousands to get tanned and get that same skin tone)? [How many of you have to worry about your children encountering those who] feel privileged, feels like they have the right to harm them because of their skin color? To feel superior to them so that they can commit these acts against your child. How many of us have to worry about this? How many of YOU have to worry about this?
I have to worry about it every day. Now, I don't have biological children [still, I do mentor youth and young adults], but I have a younger sister, older sister, mother, brothers and sisters on my Dad's side of the family...all with a beauuuutiful brown skin tone, and this is what we have to think about everyday. My younger sister just moved up North. She might as well be my daughter because I worry about where she is going, does she have right protection, does she know if she gets stopped by the police how to handle that, is she safe, does she feel safe, does she feel heard--is her excellence, is her potential being stifled by people who are telling her to not make her colleagues uncomfortable with her excellence...or with her educated nature...or with her speaking out on certain issues. How many of you have to worry about this with your child, or with your sister, your brother, your mother [on a daily basis--not because of their behavior or tendencies but simply because they are adorned in brown skin]?
This is the concern of many people of color, predominantly people of African descent every. single. day. In and out of the workplace. Our inability to increase our quality of life is systematic and legally enforced--not because we're lazy. Not because we are incompetent. Not because we are uneducated. Not because we are THUGS. But because it is systematic and legally enforced. I repeat, there are things systematically and legally enforced to remind you all that we are not allowed [or expected] to increase our quality of life. And if we do increase our quality of life, we become a threat. Our loved ones...their livelihoods are on the line, esp. if we stand up for our right to increase our quality of life and the lives of our loved ones.
[And] still, I am uplifted by the very fact you are here. Whether you are here because of police brutality, George Floyd, because you have a deeper, first hand knowledge of the long-lasting effects of 400+ years of legalized systematic oppression, emphasis on legalized and systematic, or because you have to be here because your professional reputation depends on it, you're here. And it is uplifting to know that despite everything that is going on, COVID-19, loss of jobs, and interpersonal things that are happening with families and relationships, there are people who genuinely care enough to show up and support; fundamentally, you are supporting human dignity and civil liberties.
And that's what a true American is.
A civilian solider, an ordinary person, for the fight for opportunity access and civil liberties. It is not about a flag; it is what the flag represents. It is not about agreeing and being okay with everything the government does; it about making sure the government is working in the interest of the average American, who is here because of the promise of opportunity access and civil liberties, [the people] who pay our taxes for this promise. [The people] who works to build this country's wealth because of this promise.
Thus, it is imperative that we see each other not by what we have been brainwashed to see: skin tone and all sorts of silly narratives that come with that. Silly but destructive and dangerous [narratives].
Rather, once we begin to see each other as people first, human beings first, brothers and sisters...and respect each other as human beings, brothers and sisters, only then can we begin the much needed respectful, honest, historically accurate and unified purpose-driven conversations that will be the catalyst to the change we are all here risking our livelihoods to see.
And that's what a true American is.
Let's act not out of hurt, trauma, guilt and pain (which is rightfully abundant in this time) but rather, let's find a space to act out of empathy and compassion for those whose human dignity is in danger and at risk on a daily basis, whose civil liberties in danger and at risk on a daily basis and continue to be in danger the more we are silent, compliant and insensitive to these obstacles and unique systematic barriers of certain folks (people of color, people of African descent).
Let's act not out of pride or guilt but to implement real, long-term solutions to a very complicated and systematic issue. And let's be respectful and kind... to educate ourselves, hear each other and then come up with solutions that benefit us all, because there are solutions that can benefit us all. It does not have to be one or the other. There is enough room for all of us to win and for our children and their children to reap the benefits. And it is going to start with each one of us facing ourselves first and our role in the issue [yes, I am talking to people of color, people of African descent as well]. It is going to start with us, our history and learning the real, true, very shameful and hurtful and painful to face, but it is essential that we face ourselves and our role in the issue. And then reaching out to each other, to educational institutions to city councils and then the federal government to have real authentic conversations with those who are in the process of mediation, legislation and solution making, like my organization, First Ladies of Poverty Foundation. It won't be easy; it's not easy, but it will surely be worth it.
Thank you for being here. I am not there to see all of your lovely faces, most notably all shades of brown, but my spirit is with you all. Here are the key word to remember:
Civil liberties [why we are here]. Human dignity for my brother and sisters. Compassion and Empathy to understand. Conversations to build relationships outside of the superficial ones we have been taught to see and have. Then, solutions, real longterm solutions that encompasses the historical impact of sysematic oppression, the different kinds of experiences for different kinds of people, the education and un-learning, relearning for people of color, people of African descent and allies alike. And then, of course, the most important thing to initiate all of this is to face ourselves and our role in the problem.
Only then will be able to make...or even take the right steps in making real, long-term solutions for a very complicated and systematic issue. But we are all here because we have the hope that it is possible. And I am only saying this, typing this, because I believe it is possible. We just have to want it. Not just for ourselves but for others and our future generations to come.
a hello from the desk of our Founder and CEO, Shatoyia Jones
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