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Anthony Geathers

STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.2, WHST.6-8.4, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.3, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.7, W.6-8.2, W.6-8.4, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.2, SL.6-8.6

NCSS: Time, Continuity, and Change • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions • Civic Ideals and Practices

THE BIG READ

Race in America

Uniting for Black Lives

Millions of people nationwide have joined the Black Lives Matter movement to protest long-standing racism and police violence toward Black Americans. Will this moment help bring important changes? 

As You Read, Think About: How does racism affect life in the United States? 

When 15-year-old Kennedy Green learned about the death of George Floyd this past May, she was outraged. Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While pinning Floyd to the ground, the officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, slowly suffocating him—despite Floyd’s desperate pleas and the fact that he said “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times. 

A 17-year-old bystander filmed the killing on her phone and posted it to social media. Like millions of people worldwide, Kennedy was horrified by what she saw in the video and knew she had to take action. 

She turned to Twitter, where she connected with five teens in her area who were equally committed to getting justice for Floyd—and for the many other Black men, women, and children unjustly stopped, arrested, and even killed by police each year.

Within days, the girls had organized a Black Lives Matter protest in Nashville, Tennessee. The rally, which attracted 10,000 people, was one of the largest protests against white supremacy ever held in the city. Participants marched for more than five hours, calling attention to the many ways racism and discrimination affect Black people every day in the United States. 

“I’m happy a lot of people are realizing that there’s a problem with the system,” says Kennedy. “I don’t want to see kids after us have to protest.”

When 15-year-old Kennedy Green learned about the death of George Floyd this past May, she was outraged. Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While pinning Floyd to the ground, the officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. He slowly suffocated him, despite Floyd’s desperate pleas and the fact that he said “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times.

A 17-year-old bystander filmed the killing on her phone. She posted it to social media. Like millions of people worldwide, Kennedy was horrified by what she saw in the video. She knew she had to take action.

She turned to Twitter, where she connected with five teens in her area. They were equally committed to getting justice for Floyd. They also wanted justice for the many other Black men, women, and children unjustly stopped, arrested, and even killed by police each year.

Within days, the girls had organized a Black Lives Matter protest in Nashville, Tennessee. The rally attracted 10,000 people. It was one of the largest protests against white supremacy ever held in the city. People who took part marched for more than five hours. They called attention to the many ways racism and discrimination affect Black people every day in the United States.

“I’m happy a lot of people are realizing that there’s a problem with the system,” says Kennedy. “I don’t want to see kids after us have to protest.”

Courtesy of Teens 4 Equality

Kennedy Green (third from left) and the other members of Teens 4 Equality are calling for an end to racism and white supremacy.

Kennedy and the other organizers, who have since formed a group called Teens 4 Equality, are among the millions of people who’ve been taking to the streets in recent months to call attention to racism in America. 

While Black activists have long protested police violence and other injustices toward Black Americans, Floyd’s killing brought widespread attention to these issues. Since his death, people of all ages, races, and backgrounds have rallied in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Protesters have demonstrated in every U.S. state—in big cities and small towns—and in dozens of countries worldwide. One estimate put the number of participants in the U.S. at up to 26 million, making the recent Black Lives Matter rallies the largest protest movement ever in American history.

Kennedy and the other organizers have since formed a group called Teens 4 Equality. The teens are among the millions of people who have been taking to the streets in recent months to call attention to racism in America.

Black activists have long protested police violence and other injustices toward Black Americans. But Floyd’s killing brought widespread attention to these issues. Since his death, people of all ages, races, and backgrounds have rallied in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Protesters have demonstrated in every U.S. state, in big cities and small towns. They have demonstrated in dozens of countries worldwide too. One estimate put the number of participants in the U.S. at up to 26 million. That makes the recent Black Lives Matter rallies the largest protest movement ever in American history.

What You Need to Know

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A Black Lives Matter activist protests in New York City in June.

Black Lives Matter This movement was founded in 2013 by three Black women— Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Opal Tometi—to call attention to racism in the U.S. criminal justice system. It has since grown into a global movement to end white supremacy. In recent years, the phrase “Black lives matter” has become a worldwide call to action and a reminder of Black people’s humanity and worth.

Black Lives Matter This movement was founded in 2013 by three Black women— Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Opal Tometi—to call attention to racism in the U.S. criminal justice system. It has since grown into a global movement to end white supremacy. In recent years, the phrase “Black lives matter” has become a worldwide call to action and a reminder of Black people’s humanity and worth.

In addition to calling for police reforms, the protesters are demanding broader measures to eliminate systemic racism in all aspects of American society, including education, housing, and health care (see “Understanding Systemic Racism,” below)

Today’s Black Lives Matter protesters join a long history of Americans taking to the streets to call out injustice—and to urge the nation’s leaders to act. In fact, the right to peacefully protest is so important in the U.S. that it’s protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

“Protesting has always been a way to bring change to America,” says Daniel Gillion, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “It can bring attention and urgency to an issue, highlight the nation’s concerns, and in this case, push back against discrimination.”

In addition to calling for police reforms, the protesters are demanding broader measures to eliminate systemic racism in all aspects of American society. That includes education, housing, and health care (see “Understanding Systemic Racism,” below).

Today’s Black Lives Matter protesters join a long history of Americans taking to the streets to call out injustice and to urge the nation’s leaders to act. In fact, the right to peacefully protest is so important in the U.S. that it is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Protesting has always been a way to bring change to America,” says Daniel Gillion. He is a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “It can bring attention and urgency to an issue, highlight the nation’s concerns, and in this case, push back against discrimination.”

Understanding Systemic Racism

Experts say racism isn’t limited to individual acts of hatred or discrimination based on a person’s race. It is also a system of power that gives advantages to white people at the expense of people of other races and backgrounds. (This doesn’t mean that white people don’t face hardships, just that the color of their skin isn’t a reason for those hardships.) 

Systemic racism is embedded in all aspects of American society, including our laws, policies, industries, schools, and culture—and is something all of us are a part of. It is reflected in the fact that Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to attend underfunded schools, live in poor communities, receive inferior health care, and earn low wages. 

Experts say racism isn’t limited to individual acts of hatred or discrimination based on a person’s race. It is also a system of power that gives advantages to white people at the expense of people of other races and backgrounds. (This doesn’t mean that white people don’t face hardships, just that the color of their skin isn’t a reason for those hardships.) 

Systemic racism is embedded in all aspects of American society, including our laws, policies, industries, schools, and culture—and is something all of us are a part of. It is reflected in the fact that Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to attend underfunded schools, live in poor communities, receive inferior health care, and earn low wages. 

A Long Struggle for Justice

Racism has plagued the U.S. since the country’s very beginnings, when it was used to justify slavery.  

Starting in the 1500s, millions of Black men, women, and children were ripped from their homes in Africa, locked in heavy iron chains, and forced onto crowded boats bound for the Americas. 

Those who survived the dangerous journey—and generations of their descendants—were made to work in fields, homes, and factories owned by white people. They were treated as property and denied their basic human rights. This brutal system of forced labor continued for centuries and helped the U.S. become one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

Long after the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery in 1865, however, racist policies remained in effect. Many states passed laws that made it legal to discriminate against Black Americans, denying them the right to vote and hold certain jobs. In many places, Black people were forced to use separate—and inferior—public facilities, including schools, hospitals, libraries, and parks. 

Oftentimes, racist white people, including some police officers, enforced such policies through violence. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that promotes racial and economic justice, at least 6,500 Black Americans were lynched from 1865 to 1950. Such crimes were rarely investigated.

Racism has plagued the U.S. since the country’s very beginnings, when it was used to justify slavery.

Starting in the 1500s, millions of Black men, women, and children were ripped from their homes in Africa. They were locked in heavy iron chains and forced onto crowded boats bound for the Americas.

Those who survived the dangerous journey, and generations of their descendants, were made to work in fields, homes, and factories owned by white people. They were treated as property. They were denied their basic human rights. This brutal system of forced labor continued for centuries. It helped the U.S. become one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

But long after the 13th Amendment outlawed slavery in 1865, racist policies remained in effect. Many states passed laws that made it legal to discriminate against Black Americans, denying them the right to vote and hold certain jobs. In many places, Black people were forced to use separate, inferior public facilities. Those included schools, hospitals, libraries, and parks.

Racist white people, including some police officers, often enforced such policies through violence. At least 6,500 Black Americans were lynched from 1865 to 1950. That is according to the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that promotes racial and economic justice. Such crimes were rarely investigated.

“Protesting has always been a way to bring change to America.”

During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, Black Americans organized marches, sit-ins, and boycotts to demand equality. Over time, such protests reached every corner of America. Eventually, Black leaders convinced the U.S. government to step in to abolish racist laws and practices. 

As a result, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed several landmark laws in the 1960s, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law forbids racial discrimination in schools, in workplaces, and at public facilities. 

Four years later, Black leaders persuaded Johnson to sign another historic law, the Fair Housing Act of 1968. That law says people cannot be prevented from buying or renting homes because of their race. 

As segregation was outlawed nationwide, the civil rights movement proved that protest could help change society. 

“It was an immensely effective tool,” says Gillion. “The persistence of the protests and the fact that they occurred in multiple cities signaled to politicians that they had to act.”

During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, Black Americans organized marches, sit-ins, and boycotts to demand equality. Over time, such protests reached every corner of America. Eventually, Black leaders convinced the U.S. government to step in to abolish racist laws and practices.

As a result, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed several landmark laws in the 1960s. Included was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law forbids racial discrimination in schools, in workplaces, and at public facilities.

Four years later, Black leaders persuaded Johnson to sign another historic law, the Fair Housing Act of 1968. That law says people cannot be prevented from buying or renting homes because of their race.

As segregation was outlawed nationwide, the civil rights movement proved that protest could help change society.

“It was an immensely effective tool,” says Gillion. “The persistence of the protests and the fact that they occurred in multiple cities signaled to politicians that they had to act.”

Bettmann/Getty images

Martin Luther King Jr. (front, in hat) and his wife, Coretta Scott King, lead a march in Alabama in 1965 to demand that Black Americans be allowed to exercise their right to vote.

Inequality Continues Today 

Still, racism and discrimination did not end when legal segregation did. Nationwide, many white Americans—both directly and indirectly—have limited Black people’s access to better schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. 

Government policies, for example, helped create the many racially divided communities that exist today. For decades, white politicians coordinated with banks to deny loans to Black people looking to buy homes in mostly white middle-class neighborhoods. At the same time, the government discouraged businesses from investing in places where many Black families did live, hurting those areas’ economic growth.

Still, racism and discrimination did not end when legal segregation did. Many white Americans across the nation have limited Black people’s access to better schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces. They have done so both directly and indirectly.

For example, government policies helped create the many racially divided communities that exist today. For decades, white politicians coordinated with banks to deny loans to Black people looking to buy homes in mostly white middle-class neighborhoods. At the same time, the government discouraged businesses from investing in places where many Black families did live. That hurt economic growth in those areas.

munshots/Sipa USA via AP Photo

George Floyd’s killing this past May has sparked protests against police brutality in more than 2,000 cities and towns.

Such efforts have furthered inequality, in part because where people live has a huge impact on their lives. It helps determine whether individuals attend well-funded public schools, are exposed to crime and violence, and have access to quality health care, high-paying jobs, and nutritious food. Today, research shows that Black Americans are five times as likely as white Americans to live in high-poverty communities.

Racism continues to influence the criminal justice system as well. Studies show that for similar offenses, Black people are more likely than white people to be arrested, found guilty, and given longer prison sentences. And according to data compiled by the research organization Mapping Police Violence, Black Americans are three times as likely as white Americans to be killed by police.

Such efforts have furthered inequality. That is in part because where people live has a huge impact on their lives. It helps determine whether individuals attend well-funded public schools and are exposed to crime and violence. Where people live also helps determine whether they have access to quality health care, high-paying jobs, and nutritious food. Today, research shows that Black Americans are five times as likely as white Americans to live in high-poverty communities.

Racism continues to influence the criminal justice system as well. Studies show that for similar offenses, Black people are more likely than white people to be arrested, found guilty, and given longer prison sentences. According to data compiled by the research organization Mapping Police Violence, Black Americans are three times as likely as white Americans to be killed by police.

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Thousands of people rally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement near the White House in Washington, D.C., in June.

New Allies 

That’s partly why Black Lives Matter activists are calling for cities and towns to scale back funding for law enforcement, among other changes. They point to studies that show that increases in police funding have not significantly reduced crime.

Instead, they say, officials should use some of that money to help fund public education, affordable housing, mental health services, and job creation programs. Experts say investments in those areas would benefit communities and help reduce crime and violence. 

As the Black Lives Matter movement grows, more white people are expressing support for such proposals—some for the first time. Indeed, while Black activists have long rallied against systemic racism, huge numbers of white Americans are now protesting alongside them.

“I was shocked to see so many white kids out here,” Walter Wiggins, 67, told reporters at a protest in Washington, D.C. Wiggins began attending civil rights protests as a child in the 1960s. “Back then,” he says, “it was just Black folks.”

In addition to supporting police reforms, more Americans are acknowledging the role racism plays in society. According to a Monmouth University poll conducted in late June, 67 percent of Americans say racism and discrimination are a “big problem” in the U.S. That’s up from 51 percent in 2015. A recent survey from the polling firm Civiqs also found that support for the Black Lives Matter movement has reached an all-time high. 

While the long-term effects of the current demonstrations remain to be seen, many experts are optimistic. 

“These protests are a hopeful sign of change on the horizon,” says Gillion. “This moment is forcing us to deal with long-standing inequality. And even though these discussions are painful, they’re what lead to change.”

That is partly why Black Lives Matter activists are calling for cities and towns to scale back funding for law enforcement, among other changes. The activists point to studies that show that increases in police funding have not significantly reduced crime.

Instead, they say, officials should use some of that money to help fund public education, affordable housing, mental health services, and job creation programs. Experts say investments in those areas would benefit communities and help reduce crime and violence.

As the Black Lives Matter movement grows, more white people are expressing support for such proposals. Some of them are doing so for the first time. Indeed, while Black activists have long rallied against systemic racism, huge numbers of white Americans are now protesting alongside them.

“I was shocked to see so many white kids out here,” Walter Wiggins, 67, told reporters at a protest in Washington, D.C. Wiggins began attending civil rights protests as a child in the 1960s. “Back then,” he says, “it was just Black folks.”

In addition to supporting police reforms, more Americans are acknowledging the role racism plays in society. According to a Monmouth University poll conducted in late June, 67 percent of Americans say racism and discrimination are a “big problem” in the U.S. That is up from 51 percent in 2015. A recent survey from the polling firm Civiqs also found that support for the Black Lives Matter movement has reached an all-time high.

The long-term effects of the current demonstrations remain to be seen. But many experts are optimistic.

“These protests are a hopeful sign of change on the horizon,” says Gillion. “This moment is forcing us to deal with long-standing inequality. And even though these discussions are painful, they’re what lead to change.”

Max Oden/Sipa USA via AP Photo

Teens 4 Equality led 10,000 people in a march in Nashville, Tennessee, in June.

More Work To Do

In just a few months, the Black Lives Matter protesters have persuaded national, state, and local politicians to enact and support policy changes. 

In Los Angeles, for example, officials have cut $150 million from the city’s $2 billion police budget. Some of that money will help fund youth jobs programs. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, the city council has pledged to disband its police force entirely and create a new system of public safety. Several towns, including Minneapolis and Seattle, have also promised to remove police officers from security positions in schools, where they sometimes react violently toward students. 

In just a few months, the Black Lives Matter protesters have persuaded national, state, and local politicians to enact and support policy changes.

In Los Angeles, for example, officials have cut $150 million from the city’s $2 billion police budget. Some of that money will help fund youth jobs programs. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, the city council has pledged to disband its police force entirely and create a new system of public safety. Several towns, including Minneapolis and Seattle, have also promised to remove police officers from security positions in schools. That is because such officers sometimes react violently toward students.