By Dawn Marie Dow
A couple of weeks ago Jesse Williams, an actor most known for his role as Avery Jackson on the hit television show Grey’s Anatomy, delivered an incisive speech at the Black Entertainment Television network awards. Williams critiqued law enforcement, calling it out as a system that may have changed in form and application but has consistently oppressed black and brown Americans. Though some accused him of attacking white people, his speech was directed at a system, and systems are not the same thing as people! Williams called out a system of beliefs, policies and practices that privilege white bodies over black (and other non-white) bodies in many arenas of life. This system views black bodies, particularly black male bodies, as automatically guilty and worthy of death and thus requiring overwhelming proof of innocence. In everyday interactions, blacks in America feel they are viewed as guilty and must constantly prove themselves innocent if given an opportunity to do so. As the recent shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile illustrate, such an opportunity is not guaranteed. While the critique may be systemic, the beliefs, policies and practices that give rise to a systemic state of affairs are enacted by individuals, and are instilled in the minds and hearts of individuals in obvious and subtle ways, and dramatically influence how one acts towards different groups of people. These beliefs, policies and practices have institutional effects in areas like policing that play out in how police officers criminalize those they should ordinarily protect and serve.
Just days after Williams’ speech, over the course of 48 hours two more African American men were violently gunned down by police officers. Continue reading “Is this what African American freedom looks like?”