How Many Dead Black Bodies Does it Take to Make Anti-Racism Your New Year’s Resolution?

Photo Credit: Theo Ponchaveli

I have never liked New Year’s Resolutions. Not surprisingly, this year has only increased that disdain. Not only because COVID has announced in the UK “new year, new me,” but because this year, I have been resentfully privy to various performative, cringe-inducing, gratitude-pandering, social media testimonies by “woke” Christian, white progressives about how Black death and trauma have led to their white enlightenment and subsequent woke salvation.

Listen: Jesus was Black, but George Floyd was not lynched to save white people.

Perhaps, if your social media newsfeed has been anything like mine, you can relate.

Or maybe you have also read reckless statements packaged in flowery Christian corporate vernacular that read something like: “…I am grateful for the honest invitation 2020 provided. An invitation to commit to reflecting on my own privilege, and an opportunity to continue investing in listening to the marginalized voices of my neighbors and all of God’s children…I look forward to continue interrogating my privilege in 2021…”

Yikes. As a Black Anti-Racism Educator, I can acknowledge the importance of individual learning journeys, and I can recognize the danger of white “wokeness” reliant on overt and “easily recognizably racist” Black death and pain.

George Floyd’s lynching was not an opportunity or invitation for enlightenment. Sure, those may have been outcomes, but his lynching was not a white come-to-Jesus moment: it was absolutely preventable. It was the result of decades of unchecked racial violence, institutional racism, and domestic racial terrorism, and it left a little girl without her father. And, it feels disingenuous at best and racist at worst to suggest that racial terrorism was an opportunity or an invitation to check ones privilege.

I need white Christian progressives to stop saying “2020 was a year of racial reckoning” and start saying: “I need to take ownership of the fact that every year throughout American history has been a year of racial reckoning and I didn’t start paying attention until 2020. And, now I need to commit to figuring out why that is and what sustainable changes I am going to make in order to do something about it.”

In my experience, when white enlightenment “catalysts” are confined to horrific national events, the subsequent “wokeness” is often performative and/or has a statute of limitations (often comparable with the length of the news coverage on Black communities and police brutality). And, while of course, there are exceptions, this woke framework is dangerous precisely because it leads to performative actions without risk or investment.

It is why we see corporate statements about increasing racial and ethnic diversity without any systemic change.

It is why Google fires people like. April Christina Curley and Timnit Gebru.

It is why a 2003 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that job applicants with ethnocentric sounding names are more likely to receive a call back than job applicants with African-American sounding names.

It is why the Public School Review found that New York’s schools are the most segregated in the nation.

It is why we have movements like #CiteBlackWomen.

Because where is the investment?

Performative wokeness is not wokeness, it is racism, and racism packaged as progressive is deadly.

So, how many dead Black bodies does it take to make a white person commit to anti-racism?

I hope the answer is zero.

Zero because your commitment to Black humanity should be rooted in the firm and unwavering belief that every human deserves dignity, life, respect, love, care, and equity.

Zero because it does not take a lynching to make you care enough to do the work of deconstructing and interrogating your privilege.

Zero because you are a decent human being.

But for far too many, it takes a number. Be honest about yours

Bonita Chaim is a racial justice educator (in progress) in Mennonite and interfaith communities. She is the founder of The Ebenezer Project, and a bibliophile.

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