We Cannot Be Silent: Now More than Ever We Must Demand Justice and Open Conversation about Racism

A Statement from Judith Meltzer, President of the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP)

Washington, DC (September 8, 2020)—Late last week, the Trump administration ordered all federal agencies to end racial sensitivity trainings for staff. In a memo sent to heads of federal agencies, the President directed federal agencies to end any programs that frame the United States as historically racist and White people as beneficiaries of racism, later tweeting that these programs are “propaganda” and “a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue.” This new guidance came at the close of a summer dominated by a national conversation centered around racial justice and systemic racism in the United States—a conversation sparked by nationwide protests against police violence and large-scale demonstrations that continue around the country.

At CSSP, we recognize the long and devastating history of White supremacy, racism, and discrimination in the United States. Despite advances in civil rights, public policies and institutions are often shaped by this history, contributing in large and small ways to perpetuating a system of unfair advantages for some and profound disadvantages for many. Our country’s history with and the ongoing threat that racism poses to families and communities must be acknowledged and reckoned with, so that we can build a society where all children, youth, and families can thrive. Part of the work of rooting out racism is open, honest, and candid conversations about White privilege and supremacy, our country’s history, and the role that we all must play in healing the past and building a better future.

To address this long history, we must first understand it—this country’s groundwater is poisoned by racism. One way that racism continues to shape our public policies and institutions is in the way that the criminal justice system and our system of policing devalues Black lives. In the midst of this summer’s reckoning with anti-Black racism in policing, on August 23, 2020, Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by Kenosha, WI police leaving him paralyzed. We now add his name to those of others we say on a daily basis including Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Natasha McKenna, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and too many to list here—and so many more whose names we don’t know.

We see evidence of how racism has been institutionalized in every system in which we work—from early childhood to child welfare to housing to public benefits. White people in this country are privileged in myriad ways, one of which being the freedom to choose when and how they engage with this country’s racist past and present. Black, Latinx, Native, and other people of color do not have this privilege.

Programs like the ones the President is attempting to eliminate are critically important to helping bring into the light the way racism continues to permeate all public systems and how our own biases must be acknowledged and tackled if we are ever to move toward the creation of a better, more equitable society.

It is our shared responsibility to take each and every opportunity to be proactive in dismantling racism in the United States. We must actively work to become anti-racist, to make our communities anti-racist, to elect leaders who are anti-racist, to enact policies that are anti-racist, to create equitable opportunities for all, and, ultimately, to tear down racist systems and rebuild them to be better and more equitable for all people. We must work at a community level—White people must stand up and join with accomplices in using their power to unravel oppression in all its forms. We must work at a system level, upending the historical and current racism that haunts our institutions and creates unbalanced power structures, unfair advantages, and harms far too many people. We must work at a policy level, creating solutions that structurally transform how we serve families in good times and bad, supporting the people who need help the most, and addressing racist barriers and income and social inequalities that continue to restrict success for all our families.

We cannot be silent. We cannot be indirect. We must work together across communities and coalitions to loudly proclaim an anti-racist agenda and use it to build a better, more just nation that values and protects the lives of Black, Latinx, Native, and other people of color. We must take advantage of every opportunity to learn more and do better for our past, our present, and our future.