It has been a tumultuous year, to say the least. #2020 is taking a beating with memes about how awful things have been between the global pandemic, protests, and a stressful election year. Increasing calls for racial justice sparked by the death of Ahmaud Arbery this April continued with protests to end police brutality for George Floyd and more.
We talked to Rashad Robinson in a recent episode of WWDK, which helps us pull the chaos into constructive focus. Robinson is a civil rights advocate and former senior director of media for GLAAD. He often makes appearances on NPR, CNN, and PBS, to name a few, to discuss his passionate activism and bring awareness to causes. He joins us on What We Don't Know; Racial Justice to talk about his goals in the role of President of Color Of Change, the well known civil rights organization he’s led since 2011.
With the internet, social media, and a quickly moving tech-driven world, the "like" and "click" of activism is a trend sending non-profit sites into further popularity such as Change.org, Care2, and MoveOn.org. Still, Rashad tells us how Color Of Change (COC) has approached it's 15 years of outreach differently. "I'm not looking for just people to be allies, I'm looking for people to be co-conspirators.", Robinson explains. "This is not going to be something that we finish in an election cycle, but there (are) things that we can do every single day to make things better."'>
COC specifically deals with racial injustices created in response to the mishandling of relief in black communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They have gone beyond asking for names on a list to send congress by looking for ways to change policy and gather the facts systematically.
During this global pandemic, Color Of Change gathered data to show the lack of PPE funds offered to African American- and Latino-owned businesses. They released a black patient guide to help African Americans struck disproportionately with COVID-19.
In 2012, they had a massive hand in the show Cops being canceled, which many believe exploited and stereotyped minorities while glorifying and encouraging one-sided police profiling. As seen at the start of 2020, organizations like this are essential in keeping people informed of the many social issues unfolding daily, but people rallying for change have been around for years.
The Rise of Social Justice Groups
With women's rights, child labor, and prohibition, social activism bloomed into the 1900s. The YMCA founders started what is now known as fundraising and joined the Salvation Army, The Jewish Welfare Board and other charity groups started to gather and distribute resources in communities post Civil War. In 1969, non-profits surged with a new Tax Reform Act allowing fundraising organizations tax exemption as private foundations.
During our talk with Yosi Sergant, we learned how social media and online donations are on the rise, which means non-profit outreach, online donation, and social awareness sites have increased as well. Today, there are 1.5 million non-profits in the U.S. alone. There are big names like Habitat for Humanity, Planned Parenthood, and United Way WorldWide, but lately, getting the most traction and engagement are online petition sites. These sites urge advocates to sign and share campaigns for or against policies, most dealing with civil rights.
In a New York Times interview, Robinson states, "This is not just about the George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor moments... It's also about the Amy Cooper video in Central Park. We are in a moment of deep cultural reckoning, where some of the rules are changing about what is acceptable and what is possible."
From the march in Selma to anti-war protests on college campuses throughout the 60s and 70s, and today’s Black Lives Matter protests against police violence, there is nothing more American than fighting for equality and awareness. Injustices that started before non-profits still linger due to discrimination in the nation's roots, which is why groups like Color Of Change remain vigilant and gain popularity.
America's Long History of Racial Injustices & Uprisings
Many already know America's history, but this list below shows just how consistently prejudice has compromised America since it's beginnings.
Columbus landed and quickly made six "Indians" his servants. There were many small uprisings and wars between Native Americans and the new United States. Historians note that in 1613, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and changed her name to Rebecca after her capture.
African slaves were brought to America as it was industrializing rapidly.
Ireland faced extreme poverty and starvation under British rule. 2 million Irish refugees took risky and fatal journeys to America and met with anti-immigration assaults due to fear of the Irish bringing diseases to stealing jobs.
The Indian Appropriation Act created areas (Reservations) for Native Americans due to settlers increasing land infringement. Reservation life forced dueling tribes together, impaired culture, and came with restrictive laws. Italians begin to immigrate and face anti-immigration discrimination.
Civil War begins over slavery
The Emancipation Proclamation frees 3 million slaves. Need for jobs increased as well as tensions between races. Discrimination for not only blacks but the Irish, We've all seen Gangs Of New York, right?
Civil War ends, but the complete freedom of all slaves would be difficult for years to come.
Between 1880 and 1914, over 4 million Italians migrated to America. Many Italians ended up in New Orleans, where a deadly vigilante killing of 11 Italian Americans by a racist mob took place on March 14, 1891.
The KKK formed in 1877, leading to decades of Jim Crow laws and segregation, not to mention many murders and violence. The 1960s made many necessary waves in American history with the Civil Rights Movement. They saw a fight for LGBT rights begin with The Uprising at Stonewall led by self-identified 'drag queen,' Marsha P Johnson.
Learn more about intersectionality in this video
Given the long history of continual conflicts and calls for change, what if this year, with all of its protests, rallies, and high stakes presidential campaign, is not #worstyearever but one of the most necessary years yet and you get to be a part of it?
The first presidential debate of 2020 will not only go down in history for its chaotic discourse but mostly for Trump’s inability, and seemingly refusal, to denounce hate groups and white supremacy. It’s also important to note that many believe his call for his supporters to go to the polls and “watch very closely” incites aggressive discrimination and conflict at ballot locations.
History Repeating Itself
In Louisville, Kentucky, 1855, armed guards at a polling station blocked polls on election day from German and Irish Catholics. Up to 100 people suffered attacks, some of which were fatal. Today Louisville, Kentucky sees daily protests against police brutality, sparked primarily from the murder of Breonna Taylor who was shot by police in her home.
Watch this video about the 1968 riot in Louisville, Kentucky
Anti-Mexican immigration sentiment today resembles Americans' thoughts of Irish and Italian immigration of the past. Claims that migrants steal jobs and corrupt society prove history does indeed repeat itself. ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has been under fire since 2018 for separating families at the border and maintaining unhealthy conditions exacerbated during the pandemic. There were 17 reported deaths at ICE as of August this year alone and alleged administration of unnecessary hysterectomies.
How To Break The Cycle
Discrimination and racism evolve and have taken to rebranding but the issues are still there. We are a country that had slavery, followed by segregation and now mass incarceration. Minorities disproportionately serve time than whites, often due to biases at sentencing and access to funds for release, as we learned in our talk with Robin Steinberg about bail reform.
COC makes it a part of their mission to bring awareness to the power of District Attorney's because they control bails' functions. "There are 2400 DAs right now, 70% of them run unopposed, 90% of D.A.s are white, they are the most powerful actors in making decisions," Robinson says. COC takes step by step approaches for lasting change by strategically focusing on the policies that enable injustices directly such as their current focus on The Fraternal Order Of Police. These strategies are not only meant to challenge but to gain allies and build community momentum.
Many minorities remain jailed for crimes no longer illegal such as marijuana laws. Black people face incarceration at 5.1 times the rate of white people, making over-policing and biased laws a concern. Voter rights are then also then infringed on, as mentioned last week, in our look at the work of Desmond Meade. Voter suppressions of returning citizens is a throwback to racist Reconstruction-era laws that made it hard to black people to vote in.
With positive influence comes cultural change. Robinson reflects, "I remember five years ago, we were called racist when we said 'Black Lives Matter,' I remember nine years ago, talking about race was racist and now you have BLM written on streets."
Social change requires changing people, hearts, and minds. Movements like Color Of Change lead the way to bring people together while educating and working towards lasting results that will hopefully put a dent in America's consistent history of conflict.
Be sure to learn more about Rashad and his work at www.colorofchange.comwww.colorofchange.com
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