Robinson: If racism and injustice have always existed, why speak out now?

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Graphic by Emma Ruck

Nolan Robinson, Op-Ed Contributor

This past week, I have been asked multiple times, “How are you?” From close friends, sympathetic and passionate toward me and what’s happening in this country, I’ve been given the space to air my grievances in response to the trajectory of our nation.

But many times I’ve held back yelling and ranting, and simply replied, “Not well.” This column encompasses everything I wish to say in just those two words.

You cannot watch a fire wreak havoc in a home and then choose to help put it out only when it destroys an entire block. No matter how helpful your assistance may be in containing that fire, it has already destroyed a home — an outcome that could have been prevented if the entire neighborhood acknowledged the smoke and used their resources to eradicate the flames.

How much change could the privileged voices in my life have made not when they saw the fire destroying the block, but when they saw the first signs of smoke?

Why speak out now when the evidence has always been here? This question isn’t to dismiss the plethora of activism rising from the shadows in response to events ravaging our country, but to encourage reflection. I would encourage people to ask themselves: What kept me from speaking? If I was afraid, why was I afraid? Am I now willing to continue on the journey of fighting for change to help my black siblings?

The riots, protests and unrest did not appear out of thin air. None of this is a surprise, and if any of it is a surprise to you, it is crucial to ask yourself, “I may have been looking, but was I truly seeing?” While we saw videographic evidence that Derek Chauvin’s knee was pressed against George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, we have historic evidence that the knee of the United States has been pressed against the neck of black Americans for four centuries.

This history began in 1619 when a ship, carrying what citizens of America believed to be property and expendable, arrived at Point Comfort. These past few months — which include the disproportionate cases of COVID-19 in communities of color — have culminated in an eruption of ignored pain and hurt that demands to be relieved and healed, and a cacophony of voices wanting to not only be heard but listened to.

These are the events in textbooks. These are the events we have tests on. These are the events teachers assign essays for. These are the events that further shape our country. These are the events that will go down in our nation’s history. What side of that history do you want to be on?

It’s important to understand that anyone who is not black has no power to choose a side in this. The only side one should be choosing is the side that acknowledges black lives do matter.

There is no qualification, there is no need for justification, because right now we are living in an annihilation of the people who contribute significantly in building this country. Black people’s art, science, knowledge,and beauty, are greatly benefiting people who believe their once-a-month post about racial injustice and yearly donation in the name of performative allyship is enough.

We have reached a pinnacle moment in American history, in that a clear divide is placed between those who stay silent and know their inaction will destroy lives, and those who vehemently speak against injustice. Maybe this is the moment the country needed. Maybe this is when the silent start speaking and the static start doing.

With this, what can you do? Know that a Facebook post or Instagram story, while powerful, isn’t enough. Ask yourself two questions on these fronts: “If I wasn’t concerned about losing followers, how much louder can I make my voice?” and “When I log out of these apps, how do I continue the activism that I showed all of my followers?”

Know that simply being there for your black friend, in a world in which we often feel so invisible and ignored, can be one of the best things you can possibly do. A friend texted me yesterday, “I love you bro. I see you. I feel you. I hurt for you.” How powerful is it to see someone when they’re constantly wiped away from the nation’s line of vision? Words, as well as the right to vote, are the weapons we have to fight against the evil plaguing our country. We can only hope that these vociferous voices and actions — consciously being utilized — are penetrating the ears of the oppressive foundations this country currently stands on.

It breaks my heart to live in a time that allows me to flip to a page on the Civil Rights Movement in a history book and see an image indistinguishable from what we see today. The argument that we’ve made change from then to now has no substantive merit. The question is, “Have we made enough change?”

I fear for my life all the time. I fear for my family and for the future I pray to have. But with this fear, I have hope.

I never thought that I’d live through a civil rights movement, but if my followers and friends are any indication of what the nation will be after this, I have hope — beautiful, righteous, overflowing hope. Once this dies down a bit, as it inevitably will, I dare the voices I heard on my Instagram and Facebook to still ring on every inch of Northwestern’s campus, beyond Evanston’s and Illinois’ boundaries, across the Nation, and then take command of the world.

So how am I doing? “Not well.”

Nolan Robinson is a Communication junior. He can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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