MSNBC’s Trymaine Lee hosted Can You Hear Us Now?, a powerful virtual conversation about race in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and far too many others. The June 2 special featured Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, actor Don Cheadle, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, and activist and Campaign Zero co-Founder Brittany Packnett Cunningham, as they discussed what it means to be Black in America today, and how Americans can help heal the divide. Here are a few key learnings from the discussion, which you can watch above.
1. Why is this happening now?
When asked why “this time feels different,” Hannah-Jones explained that the “sheer nature” of George Floyd’s killing combined with its timing has created a combination of circumstances that cannot be ignored.
“You have to stack that on top of the fact that it’s coming on the heels of Ahmaud Arbery, on the heels of Breonna Taylor, and in the midst of three years of a president who ran on a White nationalist campaign, who has spent the past three years stoking racial tension and divides. That we’re in the middle of a pandemic where Black people have been dying at the highest rates, but are also facing the highest rates of unemployment in the country,” Hannah-Jones explained. “There’s just so much suffering and anguish and anger right now, and it all came together in a very combustible way. Black people are tired of having to invisibly bear this pain.”
2. What can we learn from history?
“The last time we’ve had this many uprisings in this many cities for this sustained period of time would have probably been around 1968, with the assassination of Martin Luther King. What actually came from that was the passage of the Fair Housing Act,” explained Hannah-Jones.
“People say that these kinds of uprisings are only destructive and can never lead to positive change, but it is possible that when you have seen this type of property damage, this type of sustained protest going on in all these cities across the country, that elected officials will be forced to pay attention and actually do something to hold police accountable for the way that they treat citizens,” she said, adding, “What people really want is to be respected, to be treated with dignity, and to have equal protection before the law.”
3. What do the protestors on the ground want people to understand?
From the protests in Minneapolis, NBCBLK reporter Janell Ross shared the concerns of protestors, as well as an inside look at the atmosphere of the protests, which she described as much calmer than they have appeared to be on television.
“I think one of the things that I keep hearing from people on the ground here is a real desire for people to take this situation seriously,” said Ross. “What I’m hearing from a lot of people on the ground here is a lot of concern about how seriously their sense that there may be some outside and extremist forces that have infiltrated protests, there is some sense that that is not being taken seriously. And secondly, there is a lot of attention being paid to the health and welfare of designer stores and businesses, and perhaps not enough attention being paid here and elsewhere to the actual policies that govern police conduct.”
4. Is systemic racism more prevalent than conscious, blatantly hateful racism?
“I think it is not possible necessarily to quantify it in percentages. I will say that both are absolutely at play every day,” said Cheadle, adding, “People do not realize that they have these biases. Like I said, my friends are really realizing it now.”
He continued to explain that simply being nice is not enough to rectify the systemic racism this country faces.
“They are really understanding the impact of inaction,” he continued. “Thinking that because they are good people, they do good things during the day, and they’re nice to people, that that’s actually enough to tear down something that has been systemic and has been not only institutionalized, but it’s codified in the articles of the creation of this country. We were never intended to participate in this with any sort of justice or equality. It’s going to be a fight and it’s going to be a struggle.”
5. Can we snap out of systemic racism?
“We have to snap out of it. If we don’t snap out of it, we’re going to be completely destroyed. This nation will implode if we don’t snap out of the white supremacist ideology that got us to the point of where we are,” noted Barnes. “I also want to point out that for those that still subscribe to the bad apple theory, with there just being a handful of cops, you have to think about the growing condition that lead to those bad apples, and that is the White supremacist ideology that you talk about. So, if we don’t snap out of it, it will only be to our own peril.”
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