Villanova alumnus Steve Dow wrote a powerful and searching reflection on his need to discuss the last three years of racial terrorism that African Americans have experienced. In his essay, his constant frustration at his lack of knowledge about the horrors of daily oppression informs nearly every paragraph. Titled “A Different White Power,” Dow suggests that white Americans duplicate the effort he put into his writing in order to end the reflexive denial of the importance of antiblackness in human society. He calls for continuous reading, reflection, and conversation – both among white Americans privately and in the wider social context of diversity in world society. This task requires a long overdue reckoning with the African American and American Indian experiences in North America. In Cleveland, a coalition of activists have opened the door for Dow and everyone who shares his desire to create equal justice. The inaugural meeting of the Movement for Black Lives energized the city and the world over the last weekend. For everyone who is unfamiliar with the content, strategies, and tactics in pursuit of racial equality, this moment is your time to seize the day.
An early pioneer in the effort to make justice available to all people was Tim Wise. Wise organized to support the end of apartheid in South Africa and was a leader in the effort to defeat Neo-Nazi David Duke in his bid to become the Governor of Louisiana in 1991. Wise recognized the gross injustices on a large scale in ways that Dow did not twenty-five years ago. Yet Wise still overlooked the pervasive discrimination in New Orleans where he lived because the overwhelming majority of white Americans cannot imagine themselves complicit in a system of purposeful injustice. They cannot be the screaming, twisted, contorted faces of hatred that news footage captured during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. No, Wise and Dow represented the deeper, more troubling facets of white American resistance to equal justice – the apathy, the color blindness, the benign neglect. These evils are the focus of the current moment.
The rise of journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates to the top of the New York Times best sellers’ list for his searing work, Between the World and Me, is one of the most visible products of the nation’s hunger to do better. Coates has laid bare the core of racial violence that maintains the rift that Dow describes, that Wise has worked every day to bridge. His work appears as the nation has returned to a time when, every day, a new story about the killing of another African American dominates the headlines. Coates, Jamelle Bouie, and Stacey Patton write notices every day that place them in the lineage of T. Thomas Fortune, Ida Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, and Charlotta Bass. These traditions of radical journalism held a marginal place in global debate as network, cable, and print news embraced the politics of racial neglect – often criticizing voices like Ralph Wiley, Jemele Hill, Stuart Scott, and Farai Chideya. Coates, Bouie, and Patton represent a new urgency to bring the suppressed research of historians, sociologists, and educators back into public view. These works formed the core of Tim Wise’s awakening to confront injustice everywhere. They are the required knowledge for newcomers like Dow to understand how to better educate their children. They are the leaders and guides for the current civil rights activists in Cleveland, Houston, Charleston, Staten Island, and every other place where black lives have not mattered – especially suburbs like Norristown, Phoenixville, King of Prussia, and Doylestown.
There is a video on YouTube titled “Justice: An Action Plan” that illustrates how to redirect resources to this present civil rights struggle. Fewer than 4 percent of white Americans have ever joined a civil rights organization or contributed financially to any of their initiatives. The percentage of white Americans that have maintained membership and financially supported organizations like the Neo-Nazis or Ku Klux Klan has held steady above 20 percent since 1970. For every 1 white American who stands for equal justice, there are 5 who resist and dismantle every advance. Worse, 3 out of 4 white Americans simply do not care one way or the other. For every 5 racists, there are 75 white Americans who are too busy to learn about the real adversity African Americans, American Indians, and, now, Mexican Americans face every day. This situation has become intolerable. Wise has pledged to come to Norristown in an effort to improve the politics and economics of inclusion locally. Organizations like the Carver Community Center and the Norristown Men of Excellence have proven their leadership, but must now grow to serve all of Montgomery County. Partners like Villanova University, Temple University, Monmouth University, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the Society for American City and Regional Planning History, and the Centennial Celebration at the Court Street School Education Community Center stand ready to join this effort.
Dr. Walter Greason founded the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (www.icmetrogrowth.com), teaches economic history at Monmouth University (www.monmouth.edu), and is the author of the award-winning historical monograph, Suburban Erasure. His work is available on Twitter (@worldprofessor / @icmgrowth), Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).