Leonard Pitts Jr

For African Americans, ‘The long arc of increasing freedom is not yet completed’

Where are we?

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Elliott; Courtesy of Jane Elliott

“Unfortunately for all of us, we have now forgotten what this country was founded on and we have turned it over to someone who wants to turn it into an oligarchy. We’re in danger right now of losing the democracy those men fought so hard to put together and what people for the last 400 years have fought to keep together.”

- Jane Elliott, anti-racism activist

Martin; Getty Images

“I think clearly there’s been significant progress in terms of African Americans moving closer to being full Americans, but the reality is, we have not actually achieved that. It is hard for white Americans and others to understand the depths to which white supremacy was used to denigrate, degrade and stifle the progress of African Americans. and we’re still dealing with the remnants of that.”

- Roland S. Martin, host of the “Roland Martin Unfiltered” daily digital broadcast

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DiAngelo; YouTube

“We’re back in a moment where explicit forms of racism are much more legitimized and condoned at the highest levels. I mean, we’re definitely not post-racial. That veneer has been ripped away, that thin veneer that people claimed during Obama’s presidency. Politicians have always been able to manipulate the white populace through racial animus. We certainly saw that through Trump’s campaign and current presidency. It’s been said when you’ve been used to 100 percent, 98 feels oppressive. I think that’s where we’re at.”

- Robin DiAngelo, anti-racism activist and author of “White Fragility”

Wise; speakout.org

“Obviously, over the course of 400 years, there have been some monumental strides forward, freedom movements over the course of that period. We don’t want to take those for granted or downplay their importance. But also we can recognize that the long arc of increasing freedom is not yet completed, and we have a long distance to travel.”

- Tim Wise, anti-racism activist

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Hill; Getty Images

“When it comes to setting the tone in music, fashion, sports, entertainment, black people do that. We create what’s cool. When you go to Japan, they’re wearing Air Jordans. When you go to China, they may not know who a lot of people are that are from America, but you know who they definitely know? Kobe Bryant and they know LeBron James. America is very reliant on the culture that black people produce. The problem is, while we are making progress in terms of owning that culture, even still, black culture is owned largely by white people.”

- Jemele Hill, staff writer for The Atlantic, host of the “Jemele Hill Is Unbothered” podcast

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Brown; Christopher Polk Getty Images

“This racial division that’s taking place in our country right now because of that horrible man that’s quote-unquote ‘in charge,’ it’s just making everything feel small and tight and claustrophobic. And like hope is right on the other side of that and we’re all just trying to fight our way out of these tight little bubbles to get back to hope. That’s what I think our ancestors had, even in the midst of their darkest moment, I feel like they still had hope. That’s why they broke chains and ran away and fought for freedom — because they had hope. And I feel like now, I don’t feel hope. I don’t feel hope within myself.”

- Yvette Nicole Brown, actress, “Community,” “Avengers: Endgame”

Where Do We Go From Here?

“First, we elect a man, or a woman, whatever, who is not a dinosaur’s t-rump. We have to put someone in the position of the presidency who can help this country regain the status worldwide. We have considerably lost status worldwide because of the ignorance, close to insanity, of the person who is in the White House today.”

- Jane Elliott

“What it is going to require is not just massive realignment of resources, but it is really going to take leadership acknowledging and confronting so many aspects of this issue of race. America desperately wanted Obama to be the answer to all of its racial problems. But his presence really exposed the reality that all is not well. It is going to take … white America having to look itself in the mirror and own their stuff. It’s going to take them to stop saying, ‘Well, I wasn’t born then, so therefore, I have nothing to atone for.’ That’s simply incorrect.

“They’re going to have to realize that this history, every facet of it, has been used against African Americans and until that is fully acknowledged, from politics to Wall Street to the insurance industry to the education industry to the criminal justice complex, we’re going to be fighting these battles. You cannot fix or repair what we refuse to fully acknowledge and accept.”

- Roland Martin

“I think, at the very, very foundational level, we have to change what we understand it means to be racist and to participate in racism. The mainstream definition of a racist is a person who consciously doesn’t like people based on race and is intentionally mean to them. That definition virtually guarantees white defensiveness. It also guarantees that almost all white people will exempt themselves from the system we’re living in.

“When we understand it as a system, we understand it as a different question. Right now, that mainstream definition leads us to ask, ‘Is he racist, or is he not?’ And if he’s a nice person, then the answer will be, ‘He can’t be racist. He’s nice.’ Understanding the systemic nature of racism, you ask a different question which is, ‘How is racism manifesting in this context, in this policy, in this outcome?’ And then you seek to address that policy or outcome.”

- Robin DiAngelo

“We do a lousy job of preserving historic memory. I’m sure all countries have their versions of it. But it just seems we’re so enamored of our own origin story and our own myths that we have a particularly difficult time staring into the face of our historic abyss. I do think we need to engage some of this truth and reconciliation process at our local community level, as well as at the national level.”

- Tim Wise

“We can’t depend on changing racist mindsets or convincing people of our humanity if they don’t want to be convinced. But what we can do is take the power we have been able to attain — and I believe it’s a lot more than we realize — and concentrate that power within our community and be willing to forsake mainstream dollars. I think we can have a very good chance of strengthening our position.

“College sports has become a billion-dollar industry. The athletes aren’t being paid. Yet they willingly sign up to build these [white] institutions and conferences into empires. What if we did that for our own people, for our own schools and basically made networks like ESPN come to us, as opposed to us feeling like they make us into stars? Then that money gets regenerated in our schools and suddenly, whether they want to deal with us at all, people have to negotiate because sports has become so embedded in American culture that fans feel like they can’t live without it. We have the product, we are the product, but we so willingly give it up.”

- Jemele Hill

“I’m at a place in my life where I believe everybody is given a different platform. For some, it might be your family at your dinner table, for others, it might be millions of Twitter followers. Whatever your sphere of influence is, whatever your platform is, I feel like where we go from now is, every single person has to use whatever platform they have to spread the good news. And the good news is that we’re better together. The good news is that we can rise above this. The good news is, what someone says about us does not define who we are.”

- Yvette Nicole Brown

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