Nearly every morning, on my way home from getting my favorite coffee, I drive through newly renamed Nubian Square, the hub of the Roxbury neighborhood in Boston where abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison built his home and Malcolm X once lived. It used to be Dudley Square, as in Thomas Dudley, the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony when slavery was legally sanctioned in the state in 1641.
Last summer, BLACK LIVES MATTER was painted in yellow down the middle of Washington Street, which runs right through the square, but it's already starting to fade.
Like my hopes.
My hopes that swelled in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd's murder one year ago, when there were rallies in every state, including small towns in deep-red states, when scores of white Americans joined Black Americans, marching on police stations and city halls and state houses, saying enough was enough. Demanding equality for the people whose ancestors built the foundation of this country with their labor, under constant threat of violence, and whose alleged freedom is still sometimes more of a farce.
My hopes that at long last there were enough people who believed that the pernicious scourge of racism should be ended, that we'd see real, tangible change to the systems and structures that for generations have not only harmed Black Americans but all Americans.
As they did in the days following Floyd's death, Tuesday brought a wave of social media posts from corporations, sports leagues, and teams remembering the anniversary of Floyd's murder under Derek Chauvin's unapologetic knee, promising (again) a commitment to social justice.
From others, it seems like just another box to check, a tweet that was written by a team of PR people, a sanitized statement posted to make sure they aren't criticized for being silent on this day.
And in 365 days, even as Floyd's family meets with President Biden, not only have very few substantive things happened to change a system of policing that was partly borne of patrolling slaves and continues to disproportionately negatively impact Black citizens, in so many ways it feels like things have gotten worse.
Some of that is because of technology. We're all potential witnesses now, all of us with our camera-equipped devices, so we can see so many of the interactions that police typically lie about on their reports. The initial release about Floyd's death from Minneapolis police characterized it as a "medical incident," never mentioning that the "distress" Floyd experienced was because another grown man kneeled on his neck for nine minutes, draining the life out of him in full view of a crowd, defiantly putting his hands in his pockets to underscore just how little he cared about the human being under his leg.
But it's not all because technology. Police killings haven't stopped, and indeed nearly 1,000 other people have been killed by agents of the state since the day Floyd was murdered. And those are just deaths.
And the problem isn't all about policing.
Across the country, local governments are so bothered by what they're seeing that they are outright banning education on this country's true history. Though Nikole Hannah-Jones, the brilliant New York Times journalist, gifted us all the 1619 Project nearly two years ago in an attempt to reframe the United States' national narrative in the context of the treatment and contributions of Black Americans, backlash toward it continues and seems to be growing stronger. Not only has Hannah-Jones been targeted personally, cities and states are passing legislation to prevent the teaching of that body of work.
Earlier this month, Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a law banning the teaching of systemic racism in schools around the state. One hundred years ago this month, Oklahoma was the home of one of the worst incidents of anti-Black hatred in America, the Tulsa Massacre, which saw an entire thriving Black neighborhood burned to the ground by a white mob.
And still, Stitt signed the bill.
He and supporters of the legislation clearly believe erasing a heartbreaking, violent event — with some survivors still living — is as easy as scribbling his name on a paper.
Because Stitt and his ilk are taking whatever cruel steps they can to preserve their power. They peddle fear to their aging electorate and use phrases like "preserve our way of life," which is really a way of saying make sure non-white people remain as second-class citizens.
If young people are taught the real history of this country, if they're taught how deeply entrenched racism is in nearly every facet of American life, from the highway system to the public school structure to the origins of the GI Bill and Social Security, to the unending discrimination we face in housing, they may push for changes and make sure changes are enacted.
Real changes. Changes to the systems and structures.
Real changes, like universal health care or the disgustingly overdue proper increase to minimum wage or ending the school-to-prison pipeline.
They can't abide that. So they make laws that on their face are almost comically evil but nevertheless depressingly real, with tangible consequences for millions of families.
And not just Black ones. Here in Boston, where Black and Latino families have a fraction of the net worth of white households, a recent report showed closing the racial wealth gap would add $25 billion to the Massachusetts economy over just five years.
Racism negatively impacts everyone.
George Floyd's death sparked marches and yard signs and hand-written posters that still live in the windows of some neighborhood convenience stores. It sparked hope in so many of us that we'd finally see the sweeping change we have been waiting for generations to arrive.
One year later, those hopes have faded, like yellow paint down the middle of a busy street.
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