There is some­thing we can do

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OPINIONS - Mar­sha Mar­sha Mercer writes from Wash­ing­ton. Con­tact her at: mar­sha.mercer@ya­hoo.com © 2020 Mar­sha Mercer. All rights re­served.

The po­lice killing of Ge­orge Floyd and world­wide Black Lives Mat­ter protests raise many ques­tions. Chief among them, what can any­one do?

Vote, yes, but the gen­eral elec­tion is more than four months away.

On Capi­tol Hill, House Democrats are press­ing a po­lice re­form bill that, among other things, would ban the use of choke­holds by po­lice. A House vote is ex­pected by the end of the month.

But the bill’s fu­ture is un­cer­tain in the Se­nate, where Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell,

R-Ky., tapped the only black Repub­li­can sen­a­tor, Tim Scott of South Carolina, to lead a group in craft­ing a Se­nate ver­sion of po­lice re­form.

Repub­li­cans also are urg­ing the White House to step up fed­eral re­views of po­lice de­part­ments.

OK, what else? Amer­i­cans still are search­ing for ways to make their voices heard. Crowds of demon­stra­tors have thinned, but a big, new March on Wash­ing­ton is be­ing planned for late Au­gust.

Not ev­ery­one can march in the time of COVID-19, but those who want to do some­thing can use their time at home to learn about racism — both con­scious and un­con­scious — and how to com­bat it.

It ap­pears many peo­ple are do­ing just that.

Five of the top 15 books on The

New York Times nonfiction best­seller list for June 14 tackle tough sub­jects: white priv­i­lege, how to be an an­tiracist, how to talk about race, the new

Jim Crow era and white supremacy.

None of these is a light beach read, yet sev­eral are sold out. For­tu­nately, some lo­cal li­braries have copies avail­able for down­load­ing.

That’s how I was able to put on my Kin­dle “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White Peo­ple to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAn­gelo.

DiAn­gelo, a so­ci­ol­o­gist with more than 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence as a di­ver­sity trainer for com­pa­nies, writes as one white per­son to an­other. She ar­gues “we” of­ten be­come an­gry and de­fen­sive when con­fronted with the priv­i­leges of be­ing white and even re­sist talk­ing about them. She calls that de­fen­sive process white fragility.

Her book, pub­lished in 2018, soared to No. 2 on the lat­est Times list. I chose it af­ter watch­ing a video of DiAn­gelo give a talk on the Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture’s new web por­tal, Talk­ing About Race.

The por­tal, launched May 31, is a tremen­dous re­source — a trove of videos, in­ter­ac­tive ex­er­cises, schol­arly pa­pers and other ma­te­ri­als aimed at help­ing peo­ple start dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions about race and racism. The por­tal is free and does not re­quire any reg­is­tra­tion or sign-up.

It is bro­ken up into eight top­ics — be­ing an­tiracist, bias, com­mu­nity build­ing, his­tor­i­cal foun­da­tions of race, race and racial iden­tity, self-care, so­cial iden­ti­ties and sys­tems of op­pres­sion, and white­ness.

Be­ing an­tiracist, for ex­am­ple, is de­fined as mak­ing choices to fight racism in daily life, which might lead you to watch a short video fea­tur­ing Ibram X. Kendi, whose “How to be an An­tiracist” is a best­seller.

Be­ing an­tiracist re­quires ac­tion, such as un­cov­er­ing and over­com­ing one’s bi­ases. In a clip from “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” the host in­ter­views Jen­nifer L. Eber­hardt, a so­cial psy­chol­o­gist, about her book, “Bi­ased.”

As ex­ten­sive as the por­tal is, the Smith­so­nian has an­other project on race in the works, thanks to a $25 mil­lion grant from Bank of Amer­ica.

The “Race, Com­mu­nity and Our Shared Fu­ture” ini­tia­tive will ex­plore race and pol­icy with panel dis­cus­sions, in-per­son and vir­tual col­lec­tion ef­forts, and oral his­tory archives, the Smith­so­nian an­nounced June 8. Specifics have not been an­nounced.

And so, for many of us, the cur­rent mo­ment is hope­ful.

We could be at “a tip­ping point where peo­ple come to­gether and rec­og­nize that the past should give you some hope,” Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion Sec­re­tary Lon­nie G. Bunch III said in a June 5 video con­ver­sa­tion with Li­brar­ian of Congress Carla Hay­den on the li­brary’s site.

Vis­it­ing the “Talk­ing About Race” por­tal is brac­ing. It’s meant to chal­lenge at­ti­tudes and change our per­spec­tives.

Racism is in­sid­i­ous, learned over a life­time from fam­ily mem­bers, friends, oth­ers we en­counter, the so­ci­ety at large.

“We are all swim­ming in the same racial wa­ter,” DiAn­gelo writes.

Read­ing by it­self won’t solve Amer­ica’s so­cial in­equities, but it can make us more aware of our un­con­scious bi­ases and the poli­cies that sup­port them. Then change can be pos­si­ble.

Mercer

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