Why is this country still treating African Americans so poorly? How can it be that “the land of the free” can so easily disregard freedom of its own people? Inertia. Sadly simple.
For most of us, lighter-skinned individuals, it is too easy to go back to “normal” life when the dust settles until the next time. We feel compassion, we feel anger, but then the protests stop, and we’re allowed to forget. We have that luxury because the color of our skin does not cause society to remind us daily that we’re second class citizens, less worthy of protection.
It’s not just the police. It’s the banks, the mortgage brokers, the real estate agents, the doctors, every facet of society has institutionalized racism. It’s been 400 years and we have all been complicit in keeping the status quo, whether we realized it or not.
If you’re here, you’re sick of this injustice like I am. Below are just a few ideas on what we can actively start doing in our daily lives to create lasting change. I would love to hear more suggestions in the comments.
How do you tackle institutionalized racism that was the very foundation of this capitalist democracy?
Supply and demand. What better way than to use the system itself?
1. Business incentives to stand up against injustice.
Many businesses (especially older ones) try to stay away from politics as much as possible. Most of the time, I can respect that. But not today. Our fellow citizens are pleading for help and simply want the right to live without fear in their own neighborhood, a right that all Americans should have. They want to be included in those whom the police vow to “protect and serve” instead of being targeted and murdered. If a company cannot even be bothered to support that, then they are not worthy of my money.
After feeling powerless and completely overwhelmed with sadness and frustration for the past few days, I’ve decided today to take action. I’m putting my money where my mouth is, and nowhere else.
I’m writing to companies that are not showing support and telling them with great sadness that I will have to stop doing business with them because of it. And I am ending my subscriptions to those services. I will no longer promote their products, even if they have been a great help to me up until now.
A community is not an inclusive one if it looks the other way when some of its members are being erased by institutionalized racism. If you’d like the template of the letter I’m sending, here it is:
A template for calling out CEOs and companies who are ignoring the protests:
Dear [CEO name],
I love and have been an advocate for [insert product/service] for quite some time now. [Write something about how their company/community/product has made a difference in your life to show that this is not a decision you took lightly.]
However, as much as I have loved supporting your company, I cannot help but notice an eerie silence from [insert company] about what is going on right now around the country. Many [users/members/employees of company] are part of the African American community and I would hope that [insert company] would stand with them to demand fair treatment. Instead I was shocked to see that all the social posts for the past few days have been business as usual, like everything is right with the world. At the very least, the company could have [insert suggestion].
I completely understand not wanting to be political from a business standpoint. That is why I am writing today. To give you a business incentive to support our brothers and sisters who have suffered for far too long. I’m only one customer, and maybe this doesn’t make any difference. But I know that [company] cares about its [users/members/employees of company] and I can simply hope that this emboldens the company to be the inclusive place it has always aimed to be. We cannot claim to be inclusive if we erase the suffering of some.
I know these are very difficult times, [especially for small businesses like company/ even for large corporations like company]. We are still in the middle of the pandemic and everyone is struggling. However, in 2020, I find it no longer acceptable to look the other way when our fellow citizens are being mercilessly killed. It deeply saddens me to stop using [company] and to be writing this letter. I hope that [company] will remedy the situation and stand up to the structural and institutionalized racism that is claiming lives around the country. Until then, I will be taking my business elsewhere. I hope to have reason to return soon.
[Customer for X years]
2. Incentives to support minority-owned businesses.
It is already well-known fact that black and latino communities have a harder time getting loans.
If we, the consumers, can show our confidence in minority-owned businesses, then that’s one less excuse they will have to discriminate.
If we support businesses owned by the communities who have the most difficulty getting access to funding, real-estate, and other resources, we indicate that we value these people and their work, as we do others who aren’t discriminated against. And we do that with our wallet and without violence.
Refinery 29 has compiled a list of apps that can help you locate black-owned businesses.
Read more about discrimination against minority-owned businesses:
Black-owned firms are twice as likely to be rejected for loans. Is this discrimination?
— The Guardian (Jan 2020)
Buying Black, Rebooted
— New York Times (Dec 2019)
3. Use your privilege to provide safety for voices that need to be heard.
The video below is a very powerful example of how you can use your white privilege to help amplify the plea of our brothers and sisters who are seeking justice.
The police would never rough up the innocent-looking white girl. They would think twice about touching her.
They don’t hesitate to reach past her to push the boy. But because she’s there, they cannot easily hurt him or kill him like they did George Floyd.
It’s despicable that the perception of two kids of about the same age can be so different simply based on skin color. It will not end until we, the lighter-skinned people, stand up to those bullies who look a lot like us.
This does not stop at protests.
When you’re in a store and you see the clerk following the black customers around the store, ask them if there is any reason why they’re following them and not you.
When you’re at the cash register and they ask black customers for their I.D. to use a credit card, but they don’t ask you, call them on it and ask them why you didn’t need to show yours.
When you witness people having a fear-based reaction to a black man wearing a hoodie walking peacefully or jogging, ask them what about this person made them appear sketchy, and whether seeing you in the same outfit would cause the same reaction.
When you hear someone assuming that a black person is unemployed, on welfare, or otherwise not a productive member of society, ask them why they think that, how they came to that conclusion, and what information did they use to get to that conclusion.
When you hear someone making sweeping statements about black people, ask them to tell you about actual black people they know, their interactions with them, and whether those interactions were consistent with those negative stereotypes. Most of the time, they will say no, but that these were exceptions. Tell them that is not the case. Because it isn’t.
When you hear people saying that black people are poor because they’re lazy, educate them about how being born privileged gives you a lifelong advantage over someone born in a poor neighborhood. Tell them about how real estate is systematically valued less in black neighborhoods, how black people have a harder time getting approved for mortgages or loans, how black businesses have to work a lot harder to earn trust, how people who live in constant fear of being killed by the police might have a harder time taking night courses or getting accepted into predominantly white schools.
4. Accept that you’re conditioned to be racist, and work to unlearn at work, at home, on the streets.
Whether you’re a real estate agent, a lawyer, a doctor, a mortgage broker, or a police officer, you have been conditioned to have a very different first impression of a black or latino man than you do of a white man, regardless of his education level and socio-economic status. That is not your fault. Structural/institutional racism is undeniable. But if you do nothing about it, that is definitely your fault.
We’ve probably all discriminated against someone, whether consciously or not. It is up to us to educate ourselves so that we can recognize when we are doing so and unlearn those habits.
Here’s a few statistics to give you an idea of how deeply rooted this is:
- Black people are shown fewer properties than whites when shopping for real estate.
- Black/latino find it harder to get approved for mortgages, even when their credit scores are higher than their white counterparts.
- Healthcare providers are less likely to deliver effective treatments to people of color when compared to their white counterparts — even after controlling for characteristics like class, health behaviors, comorbidities, and access to health insurance and health care services. For example, one study of 400 hospitals in the United States showed that black patients with heart disease received older, cheaper, and more conservative treatments than their white counterparts. Black patients were less likely to receive coronary bypass operations and angiography. After surgery, they are discharged earlier from the hospital than white patients — at a stage when discharge is inappropriate. The same goes for other illnesses. Black women are less likely than white women to receive radiation therapy in conjunction with a mastectomy. In fact, they are less likely to receive mastectomies. Perhaps more disturbing is that black patients are more likely to receive less desirable treatments. The rates at which black patients have their limbs amputated is higher than those for white patients. Additionally, black patients suffering from bipolar disorder are more likely to be treated with antipsychotics despite evidence that these medications have long-term negative effects and are not effective.
- African Americans and Asians get more interviews when they “mask” their race from their resumes and appear more white.
5. Vote to elect fair governments.
Encourage minorities to run for office and support them when they do. Campaign for them. Representation matters. Tell your other privileged friends why you support them and why they should too. Get them involved.
Governments can pledge to support diversity by committing to giving more opportunities to minority-owned businesses, which tend to win fewer government contracts, according to urban.org publication.
Governments make it easier for every citizen to vote. Especially under-represented ones. They can put an end to voter suppression.
Governments can give businesses incentives to be fair to minorities and also penalize them for discrimination.
Governments can make sure to minorities have a seat at the table when discussing how to improve education.
As President Obama said in a statement today, it’s not just federal elections that make a difference. Local governments play a huge role in the social experiences of their constituents.
Ask for your government to mandate accountability from the top down so that injustice doesn’t go unpunished. To ensure oversight committees are representative of the communities they serve. Vote to mandate diversity training and raise awareness about unconscious biases on the job so law enforcement officials have the tools to recognize their own biases and de-escalate instead of escalating.
I often wonder whether, as an Asian-looking immigrant, I have the right to say anything in this matter. However, I believe that doing nothing is worse than saying something that helps me realize I am wrong.
I hope that everything I am sharing here is helping the cause, but if you feel it doesn’t, please let me know and I will be happy to address the situation.
To all my friends and relatives in the black community, I am with you.