Gilda Z. Jacobs: Protests can be a catalyst for racial justice and equity

June 6, 2020 6:50 am

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The Michigan League for Public Policy has fought against injustice since we were founded in 1912, and right now is one of the most pivotal moments in that time span. 

At the League, we want to acknowledge the real pain and suffering that is occurring across the country right now, particularly for Black people. While the current circumstances and sentiments have sadly become all too common in America, each of these moments has the potential to be a watershed moment. The tragic and unjustified killing of George Floyd and so many others should lead to real, systemic change in the United States.

People of color continue to face experiences, injustices and threats that others will never experience. It is hard to comprehend and impossible to truly understand. The deep-seated racism and idea that people of color are “less than” has persisted — through slavery, segregation and “separate but equal” to the new Jim Crow, mass incarceration and police brutality.

For a variety of reasons, including longstanding racism and fear, racial profiling, and both explicit and implicit individual biases, Black people and other people of color continue to be overrepresented in every area of the justice system. People of color are more likely to be pulled over, searched, charged and convicted, often receiving steeper fines and sterner sentences. But the most disturbing fact of all is that Black people are more likely to be killed or beaten in police custody, too often without justice or repercussions for those responsible.

As a society, we must find a way to stop this violence against communities of color. The protests around the country and the dialogue they are generating is a start. But that dialogue must lead to awareness and that awareness must lead to action.

Racism is entwined in every aspect of our lives, and combating racism must be fought on multiple fronts. As an organization and as individuals, at the League, we strive to be explicitly anti-racist in our language and our work. This includes speaking out against injustice as well as drawing attention to racial inequities and necessary policy changes to reduce or eliminate them.

Undoing ingrained, systemic issues born out of racism is not an easy task, but it can start with identifying biases and inequities, calling them out, and working together across racial, economic and political lines to challenge the system and rebuild it in the name of justice.

Nothing should distract us from the important work that is ahead in addressing the police brutality that is a threat to black and brown people. But we also need to continue to tackle the pervasive racial disparities in health, housing, education, incarceration and other policy areas — racial disparities that have been magnified by COVID-19. This includes undoing decades of damage that policies and practices have done to people of color.

As we continue to lift up the need for racial equity as an integral and intentional part of improving our society as well as public policy, we not only need to change systems, we need to change hearts, minds and behaviors.

That’s why in addition to our policy and data-driven work, the Michigan League for Public Policy has created the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge as a way for us — and for everyone who participates — to continue tackling racial injustice and dismantling White privilege at both the micro and macro levels. Improving personal understanding fuels broader change.

So many of us, especially White people, are wrestling with what we can and should be doing now. Supporting justice without judgment and following the lead of those who are most directly impacted should be at the top of the list. But doing the 21-Day Challenge—and enlisting family, friends and coworkers to do the same — is another way to be a better ally in the fight for equity. 

Taking the challenge is one small thing we can do as individuals that could have a sweeping impact. If you are interested in joining us for a guided challenge beginning Monday, you can sign up here, or you can go through it at your own pace. 

The League remains committed to doing everything in our power to promote racial equity and justice, including continuing to learn, grow and expand our understanding as best we can. We hope that recent events and the racial unrest in this country will encourage everyone to do the same.

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Gilda Z. Jacobs
Gilda Z. Jacobs

Gilda Z. Jacobs has dedicated her life to helping others, working as an educator, helping provide housing for people with disabilities, serving in state and local government for 30 years, including 12 in the Michigan Legislature. She is the Michigan League for Public Policy's former President and CEO.