Updated: Feb 27, 2021
Turn on the news or open Instagram on your phone and you’ll see businesses, organizations, celebrities, and individuals all over the country showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and fighting against police brutality. It feels as if a revolution is unfurling right before our eyes. We talk about how our children will be learning about this in their history classes and how the year 2020 will make a mark in textbooks. I shared those sentiments. Seeing every single social media platform flooded with images commemorating the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and thousands of other Black victims unlawfully killed at the hands of police was heartwarming — the solidarity gave me hope. I truly felt that this was the tipping point and that the Black community would finally get the justice they deserve.
However, a few days ago, I heard something that challenged my optimistic beliefs and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. I was listening to an episode of NPR’s Code Switch, a podcast about race and identity. In it, Jamil Smith, a senior writer at The Rolling Stone magazine says:
“Tamir Rice would’ve been 18 in June. And America moves on. America moves forward. I think to a large extent white power structure waits for us as black people especially to quiet down, settle down, to get it out of our system. In terms of unrest or in terms of online protests, I’ll be writing my column and that moment will happen. But whether or not it will result in any concrete change is really up to people who may be least involved with the trauma. It matters whether or not people who are not affected by this do something.”
Unfortunately, what he describes is the most likely outcome of the current discourse on race relations in America. It won’t be long before the protests begin to dwindle and everyone goes back to posting about all the bread they’re baking or their new DIY skincare hack. Unless the people least affected, meaning white people and non-Black POCs, attempt to make a difference, society will return back to normal.
As a pre-med student, I can’t help but connect this all back to the subject I know best: science. If there is one concept that is shared by all of the distinct scientific disciplines, it is that of equilibrium, the idea that a system will always move towards a balance: Le Chatelier’s principle, Newton’s Laws, homeostasis, etc. This principle drives some of our most important functions, from maintaining an appropriate body temperature to our breathing patterns. However, in our present situation, we are being challenged to resist equilibrium. We cannot let society return back to normal where our Black brothers and sisters continue to be killed unjustly. We cannot appease the “white power structure.”
Jamil Smith’s words got me thinking. The reality is that I, as a 2nd generation Indian American, am probably one of the least affected by the recent events. Of course, I am gripped with immense sadness and pain every time I hear about another wrongful murder of a Black person. I am angered by the way Black people are being treated. However, I myself have never had to fear for my life when being pulled over by the cops; the height of my troubles was simply the speeding ticket I would have to pay. Yet, it’s become painfully evident that for my Black friends, quite often the “ticket” they pay is their own life.
I have never had to worry about the color of my skin automatically hindering me regardless of my intellect, skills, or talents. That’s why my actions, and the actions of other non-Black POCs, will ultimately determine the outcome of this situation. The white power structure is expecting us to settle down. They know that eventually we will stop caring and move onto the next social media “trend”. But this is not a trend, we cannot let it be. We must continue to persist.
Many of you reading this may have posted a graphic on your social media to raise awareness, you may have signed a petition or two, or you may have even donated. All of these actions are great ways to show our support. However, if we want to work towards real and sustainable change, we must actively put systems in place to do that.
Jamil Smith says in the podcast, “it matters whether or not people who are not affected by this do something,” so I set out to learn what exactly it was that I could do to make an enduring impact. At first, I did a lot of listening; I listened to podcasts and audiobooks and started to have genuine conversations with my friends. I will continue to listen, particularly to Black voices, but in these past few days I’ve also come up with a few concrete actions for myself and others in similar positions.
1. Vote — and not just for the big leagues
Former President Barack Obama says it best:
“When we think about politics, a lot of us focus only on the presidency and the federal government… But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”
As I write this, it is the Minneapolis City Council that is working to defund and dismantle the police force, not the U.S. Congress. It is the mayor of Los Angeles who is diverting millions of dollars from the police budget into education, not the President. Most of the time, it’s actually the minor leagues enacting policy and reform that directly affects you and me. Thus, it is crucial that we exercise our duty to vote, particularly in our local elections. If you’re not sure whether you are registered to vote, stop reading this and take a second right now to check here.
2. Recognize and address microaggressions
One of the most effective adjustments we can make is within ourselves and our immediate circles. The saying ‘change begins at home’ couldn’t be more applicable right now. A good way to start is by learning about microaggressions, which are often unintentional remarks or behaviors that carry a hint of prejudice. It’s no secret that in the South Asian community, racist comments in the form of microaggressions are extremely pervasive, especially with regards to skin color. Across multiple generations and cultures, being dark-skinned has been equated with ugliness. I can recall multiple incidents where I’ve jokingly labeled someone as kaari, or black, for being out in the sun too long or someone has said the same to me. Although these comments may seem harmless, the truth is that they are inherently racist. We need to spend more time thinking about the unintended consequences of our language, and we can take it a step further by actively acknowledging these microaggressions in our day-to-day conversations.
3. Approach media with a critical lens
A few days ago, there was a video circulating around the internet of a group of angry protesters storming into the White House. The clip traveled through numerous WhatsApp threads and Facebook feeds with the sharers claiming there was gunfire and that the President fled for safety. Upon further examination, it was discovered that the building being raided was not 1600 Pennsylvania Ave; it was actually the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.
This is a more extreme example of how misinformation can be detrimental, but the message here is clear. As Abraham Lincoln once said, don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
It is of utmost importance now, more than ever, that we verify the information that we post on our social media and share with our friends. Don’t be afraid to question the sources being cited and check their validity yourself.
These are just three of many ways we can help facilitate lasting change. I’m constantly learning about how I can be a more effective ally, and following the work of Black women activists. I encourage you to do the same. (If you need somewhere to start, I’m currently reading Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Noble, which discusses the overlap between race and machine learning).
Earlier, I mentioned that in science, specifically in chemistry, a system that has been disturbed will always return to a specific equilibrium value, or the baseline. However, there is one exception. When the temperature of the system is altered, say, by adding more heat, the equilibrium position will change. We will only be able to tip the balance of our own society when we all do our part. It is not just the responsibility of Black people; it is a battle for us all.