Calling out anti-Blackness in our response to police violence and economic inequality

The Black community has faced a long history of racial exclusion, discrimination, and inequality in the United States, causing these families to shoulder unequal economic and health burdens.

We must address anti-Blackness in our society and center Black women and their communities in our policies.

That was the resounding message from a panel of Black and brown women—leading economic and social justice experts—on creating lasting change. These women spoke in June at the Economic Policy Institute’s webinar, Rebuilding the House That Anti-Blackness Built in Our COVID Response, after the police murder of George Floyd.

Their words resonate today, as the nation continues to grapple with its history of systemic racism, inequities, and injustice, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The panel, moderated by EPI Director of EARN Naomi Walker, included:

  • Anne Price, Insight Center
  • Jaribu Hill, Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights
  • Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Insight Center
  • Julianne Malveaux, Economic Education
  • Rhonda Sharpe, Women’s Institute for Science, Equity, and Race
  • Valerie Wilson, Economic Policy Institute

Here are some key moments from the discussion:

Naomi Walker: “Black people in this country face physical and economic violence every day, and all of this is taking place in the midst of a stunning—though not surprising—lack of leadership from the highest office in the land.”

Why should we address anti-Blackness in our society, in our research, and in our advocacy?

Julianne Malveaux: “These murders are consistent with murders that have happened as long as we’ve been here in this country. You don’t have to go to 2020. You can start at 1892, when Ida B. Wells documented a lynching of her friend, who had the nerve to start a grocery store on the same block that a white man had one. The long end of that short story was the white man was able to acquire the Black man’s store for eight cents on the dollar. Eight cents on the dollar. And we can talk about Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898, when the anecdotal evidence was that ‘the river ran red.’ They said there were 60 or 70 dead people. Now, they’re finding it was 600 or 700. And then, of course, there’s Tulsa. Why is this all connected? It’s connected because in our psyches there is a block in terms of how we participate, how we manage, [and] what we do.”

Why is it important to talk about Black people when discussing the economic and health impact of both the pandemic and economic crisis?

Jaribu Hill: “Language is important. Over the last few days, we have heard some outlandish descriptions of what’s happening to our people, from ‘senseless rioting’ [and] ‘destroying things,’ but no one talked about the lynching by the knee. No one talked about how, with impunity, agents of the state who hide behind tin badges always, always, always get away with murdering Black people. You add that to—you match that up with—those who are dying in COVID beds disproportionately to those who have been dying in the streets since we were dragged over here as a result of a felony kidnapping, and it just makes you know that you’ve got to keep your rage. You’ve got to keep your rage. You can never let your rage down. I don’t even say ‘guard down.’ I say, ‘Never let your rage down.’”

What is the importance of language when discussing systemic racism?

Anne Price: “What we’re really talking about is the devaluation and disposability of Black lives. That’s what brings these all together—the convergence of police brutality, of policing Black bodies, and the negligence that we’ve seen in terms of COVID and Black people.”

What does “anti-Blackness” mean, in terms of the current health, economic, and political crises?

Rhonda Sharpe: “When you center on Black women—the most vulnerable—and you create policies that are focused on the most vulnerable, i.e., Black women, then you will get policies that lift everyone.”

Why is it important to focus on Black women when discussing anti-Blackness?

Jhumpa Bhattacharya: “There is something very specific about anti-Blackness. There is something very definitive about anti-Blackness that I think needs to be named. We’re seeing that now, in particular with what’s happening in our country. As women of color, if we don’t acknowledge the specificity of anti-Blackness, we’re actually doing a disservice and we’re contributing to it. One [step] is to really pause and examine the way in which our own communities are perpetuating anti-Blackness. The second thing is to center Black people in our policies, in our institutions, and our decision-making.”

How can other women of color address anti-Blackness and support Black women?

Valerie Wilson: “The laws that we have in place—and have for decades—there’s a real problem with enforcement there. This, again, gets to this issue related to power and representation and someone’s ability to really stand up and try to enact or call in the rights that on the books are ours, but in practice, we don’t see. That’s a lot of what’s behind the uprisings that we’re seeing in the streets. People keep saying, ‘Go through the system, follow the system, file this complaint. Do this, do that,’ and nothing happens. That’s because we have things on the books, but the way that they actually play out and actually work in real life, there’s very little teeth behind that, at all. We really need to change the way that we structure policy and the way that we enforce those laws and policies.”

What role does policy play in perpetuating anti-Blackness?

These videos are excerpts from the event. To see the full video, click here.