Our nation is wracked with sorrow and anger, emotions triggered by witnessing a white police officer killing yet another unarmed black man in the course of an arrest. This time it was George Floyd — a father, a brother, a coach, a man described by his loved ones as “a gentle giant.”
The heart-felt response to the tragic killing of George Floyd has been intensified by the recognition that this is not an isolated incident, but part of an intolerable pattern of hate, fear and persistent oppression of black and brown people that has plagued this nation for far too long.
The life and vibrancy of the Alliance for Science comes from hosting science advocates from throughout the world, particularly Africa and South Asia, at Cornell University.
Through their experiences in the United States, and our own observations and encounters, we have been made repeatedly aware of the extent of systemic racism in the US. This has reinforced our commitment to stand in solidarity with persons of color to take action against the egregious racism within the US.
We have seen this racism play out on the individual level, in the form of discriminatory, prejudiced and offensive behavior toward our visiting colleagues of color, too many of whom have been treated as second-class citizens, denied visas, harassed by customs and immigration officials while entering the US, and even characterized as colonial pawns unable to think or act for themselves.
We have seen it play out at the macro level, as evidenced by the large number of black and brown American citizens who are murdered by police and incarcerated in this nation’s jails.
And we have seen overt racism expressed as discriminatory rhetoric and policies directed at immigrants, and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as violence against Asian Americans.
Like the killing of George Floyd, the pandemic has starkly revealed the racist socioeconomic divides in the US, with blacks, Latinos and Native Americans far more likely than whites to contract the novel coronavirus and die from the effects of COVID-19. This is due to a number of causes, including chronic health conditions related to poverty and insufficient access to nutritious foods and medical care; employment in low-paying service jobs that requires them to interact with the public or work in close proximity to others, often without adequate protection; and in the case of the COVID-devastated Navajo Nation, lack of such basic services as decent housing, running water and electricity.
Though COVID-19 has dragged this travesty into the spotlight, this is not a new phenomenon. The data have clearly shown for decades that African Americans, Latinos and other minority groups live sicker and die younger. COVID-19 is just another example of how racial and ethnic minority communities are disproportionately impacted by disease in the US.
We can — and we must — do better than this. The United States likes to call itself the greatest nation on Earth, a cultural melting pot, a world power built by hard-working people who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. But this white-washed national identity fails to acknowledge the land theft and resettlement imposed on this continent’s indigenous people, the role of slave and immigrant labor in amassing tremendous wealth for the privileged and typically white few, and the current inequality that still makes life difficult and dangerous for far too many American citizens of color.
As our nation grapples with the horrific image of a white police office callously kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, ignoring the man’s pleas for a breath of air, it becomes ever more urgent for us to acknowledge the true brutality of racism. It has no place in our law enforcement agencies, no place in our society and it’s up to us to make it stop. This social and political reckoning must be championed by those of us who have long enjoyed the privileges that come from simply being born white in the United States.
The time to end racism was yesterday. We are late, but nevertheless, we add our voices and our actions to those have risen up with the resounding cry that “racism must stop now.” Perpetrators of racism should face legal repercussions for their inhumane and cruel behavior and beliefs. If we remain silent, we are complicit in these acts.
Those of us who recognize the immorality of racism, prejudice and discrimination must stand in solidarity and join the righteous struggle to eliminate the systemic scourge of racism and ensure that all citizens are truly equal — not just in the eyes of the law, but in the hearts and minds of all Americans.