But This Is Now


Image Description: Leaders from the Civil Rights Movement standing together during the 1963 March on Washington, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

From the time I was a young child to the time I was a young adult, my formal educational settings taught me that racism was a thing of the past.

It was serious, but it was largely behind us.

Oh, sure, there were some skinheads out there somewhere. And grand dragons marched in those occasional KKK rallies too. But those people were certainly the hate-filled exceptions. “Aren’t they awful?” we seemed to say with our scrunched up facial expressions of disgust and dismissal.

We disdained their hatred, as we should have, but we also dismissed ourselves from the necessity of confronting our own racial biases. We kept these individuals away from the center of our civic life, as we should have, but we also kept ourselves from the recognition that race and class function systemically within our civic institutions.

We were majority white communities who learned, taught, and internalized colorblindness. It became a virtuous thing never to see race. “When I see people, I don’t see color,” we would say.

But this meant we never talked about the racism we did see. Most of all, this meant that we worked to deny the reality of racism right in front of us. We erased the harm that we and our larger systems were causing Black people and people of color. Occasionally, this meant we would erase Black people and people of color themselves. It certainly involved the erasure of their claims. We would dismiss them outright.

“That was then, but this is now,” we would say.

We gathered around photos of Civil Rights leaders from the 1960s and taught those to our children, as we should have. But before color printing, those photos were all in black and white. They had a veneer of past. I was born a mere eighteen years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — that’s it — but I grew up feeling like Jim Crow took place eons ago.

I have vivid memories of sitting around my house while talk shows from the 1980s and 1990s were on the television set. Oprah would dare to talk about race on her show, inviting guests to talk about real, lived stories. Almost inevitably, someone in the audience would stand up to make a particular, impassioned argument. Oprah would hold out the microphone for them to speak, and they would say something like,

“Why are you always talking about slavery? Can’t you let that go? That was then, but this is now!”

“Those police officers shouldn’t have done that to Rodney King. It’s awful. But that’s the act of those police officers. Stop trying to act like this is everybody. You got desegregation. You got Civil Rights. You got the right to vote. Stop blaming us for everything. That was then, but this is now!”

“But this is now.”
“But this is now.”
“But this is now.”

The phrase usually meant, “Get over it.” Racism is serious, but it’s largely behind us.

And yet, here we are.

Ahmaud Arbury was jogging through a neighborhood and was killed by men who viewed him as suspicious and worthy of death.

But this is now.

Breonna Taylor was sleeping in her own house when police burst in and shot her eight times. She too was viewed as suspicious and worthy of death.

But this is now.

Christian Cooper was bird watching in the park. Amy Cooper viewed him as suspicious and threatened his life with a phone call to the police.

But this is now.

Sha’Teina Grady El, a resident of my county, was filming police officers that were forming a perimeter near her daughter’s house. She wanted to make sure that her daughter and grandchildren would be safe. Officers tried to remove them from the area, but they resisted leaving. Then one of the officers assaulted her.

But this is now.

George Floyd had gone to the grocery store. Soon after, police surrounded him. He was viewed as suspicious and worthy of death. Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck, and he died after crying for air for four minutes.

But this is now.

Renee Roederer

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