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Origins of white supremacy has not been adequately addressed in U.S. schools, says activist

There has never been enough done in the United States to address discriminatory policies and attitudes in the society at large, much less in the local, federal and state governments, says Heather Gray, an activist who has worked in support of Black farmers for years.
Protesters gathered outside the Wendy’s restaurant where the police killed Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.
Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times

 

“Nor have the origins of and history of white supremacy and its impact been taught in the school systems to the degree that it should be,” she noted in an interview with the Balkans Post.

She also said the protests around the country and the world are already having a profound impact on policy makers in America.

Balkans Post: What’s your opinion about the long-standing as well as very recent causes that led to the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd? How have these causes come together to create the current situation?

Heather Gray: Ever since the founding of the United States after the Revolutionary War in the late 1700’s and on, there has been the implementation of white supremacy and racism on the continent; and/or one could go back to 1492 when Christopher Columbus, who was from the Iberian Peninsula in Europe, first landed on the shores of the Americas. Columbus brought with him a racist mentality, white supremacy and arrogant, discriminatory policies toward those who were not of European descent.

The fact is that in all of these centuries since Europeans came to this continent, racism and white supremacy have never been adequately addressed that would lead to a fully just society. Yet, movements to counter these discriminatory attitudes and policies have been significant, from the 1700’s up to the present, but, as mentioned, there is clearly much more that needs to be done.

For example, some of the early significant movements were in the mid-1880’s when an estimated 200,000 slaves from the Southern states voluntarily fought in President Abraham Lincoln’s Union Army during the U.S. Civil War that many saw as a war to end slavery; to the Civil Rights movements in the 1900’s, to numerous Congressional and Supreme Court decisions on voting and ending discrimination in public facilities, etc. And these are but a few examples.

But the fact is that there has never been enough done in the United States overall to address discriminatory policies and attitudes in the society at large, much less in the local, federal and state governments. Nor have the origins of and history of white supremacy and its impact been taught in the school systems to the degree that it should be.

All of this lack of attention has led to discriminatory attitudes by the U.S. policemen. One of the major problems faced by Americans is that many of U.S. policemen have also been trained in Israel or by Israelis who have come to the U.S. for training purposes. This has, therefore, led to many American policemen adapting attitudes and behavior similar to the tragic treatment of the Israel military toward the Palestinians, such as the “knee-on-the-neck” as we witnessed with the murder of George Floyd.

BP: Where do you think such protests will eventually lead to? Is there hope for change?

Heather Gray: The protests around the country and the world are already having a profound impact on policy makers in America, be it in the federal government, such as Congress, and/or in the state and local governments as well. The dialogue for different policies is in process but we don’t yet know what those changes will be.

What has impressed many around the country and the world is that the protests are composed of both black and white youth, and also black and white adults in many instances. This indicates the breadth of concern and a broad coalition of those who want to see changes made.

Regarding education in America, however, one of the topics that is invariably missing is the philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s strategies for Non-Violent Social Change. Dr. King would note that you don’t protest for the sake to protest alone. You need to know what specifically you want changed and to negotiate with whoever or whatever institution is responsible for the policies you want to see changed. You certainly don’t want those who are the oppressors to develop the new policies.

At this point, the protestors have not been specific regarding what policies they want to see implemented to end this discriminatory, racist and violent behavior by the U.S. police departments.

BP: What’s the significance of the Black Lives Matter? How successful has this movement been?

Heather Gray: The “Black Lives Matter” movement is very significant. It is stating firmly and profoundly to Americans and those throughout the world that “yes” Black Lives Matter and that the U.S. public and policy makers need to be cognizant of that fact in everything they do. With these on-going killings, largely of Black youth, the response has been significant.

In white neighborhoods, for example, in Atlanta, Georgia, where I live, numerous residents have large posters in their yards stating in bold print that “BLACK LIVES MATTER”. I need to say that this is a significantly different and a much appreciated response. The Black youth in America have made a substantial and profound impact.

BP: In the midst of protests against police brutality, The New York Times published a piece by far-right Senator Tom Cotton, advocating the government to use the military against American citizens. What’s your take on the piece and the forces within America who advocate brutality against protesters?

Heather Gray: First, I need to comment on the response by editors in the New York Times regarding this article by Senator Tom Cotton. Tom Cotton’s article was published on June 3, 2020 and then on June 5, the New York Times came out with a statement stating that they should not have published it. Here is an excerpt:

Editors’ Note, June 5, 2020:

After publication, this essay met strong criticism from many readers (and many Times colleagues), prompting editors to review the piece and the editing process. Based on that review, we have concluded that the essay fell short of our standards and should not have been published. (New York Times)

The New York Times editors noted that there was much in Cotton’s article that should have been edited altogether and some incorrect information was included. For example, inferred in Cotton’s article was that the protestors included violent Antifa (anti-fascist) radicals and this has simply not been substantiated; and there was also the statement “that police officers ‘bore the brunt’ of the violence” which they note should also have been challenged – the editors referred to this comment by Cotton as an “overstatement.”

And “yes”, there are the “forces within America who advocate brutality against protesters.” The unfortunate reality of this scenario is that there are likely thousands or millions in America who would like to see the U.S. military in the streets going after the protestors. In fact, there are also questions as to whether some in the country opposed to the demonstrations are encouraging others to engage in looting and destruction of buildings, etc. to undermine those who are protesting and demanding justice. But this also has yet to be substantiated.

It appears, however, those in favor of the use of the military are not the majority of Americans as a sizable number appear to be appalled at the ruthless killings of Blacks altogether – and Black youth in particular – and are pleased that people are protesting about this.

But whether they are in the majority or not, it is, in fact, precisely this mentality of not allowing protests for justice that needs to be changed in America and why we have so many problems in the first place. In other words, using violence to solve domestic problems is rarely or ever credible and it becomes a vicious cycle. There has been, thankfully, considerable pushback when the use of the military was suggested as a policy by Tom Cotton or by President Donald Trump as well.  

This position of enforcement by the military to end demonstrations also suggests that people don’t have the right to take a vocal stance for justice, which is one of the renowned principles in the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution is as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The protestors, therefore, are but expressing their Constitutional right of free speech and assembly. The vast majority are marching in the streets demanding justice and they are not being violent or looting. Finally, the U.S. military should have no role whatsoever in interfering with Americans who are standing up for justice and demanding an end to racist, discriminatory and violent behavior by American police forces.


Heather Gray is a writer and radio producer on WRFG-FM in Atlanta, Georgia and has also lived in Canada, Australia, Singapore, briefly in the Philippines and has traveled in southern Africa. For years she has worked in support of Black farmers issues and in cooperative economic development in the rural South. She holds degrees in anthropology and sociology.

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