Racism in America.
This is not new. This is not a wave of new information by any stretch of the word. What is happening in our country and around the world is a movement spurred into necessary action because of a very public and horrific death of a man at the hands of the police.
When the whole world reacts, it feels like so many things. It feels like anger and hurt and inertia and motivation, sometimes hope and truly like things are literally in motion, that something will come of this. But how can things change in my community or in my business? What is my role and how can my voice make a difference? These are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself lately.
The more I think about it the more I realize that the answers are within us already. We must make that something happen ourselves by our actions and our plans for what we want to see happen in our community.
The current movement has jolted much of the world into a wake up state of mind and if it hasn’t, you may need to do some soul searching because this is a long overdue moment in our history. A moment where both blatant and covert racism are alive and thriving in our country and reaching a saturation point. Actually it has exceeded saturation. We’re at the bottom of the sea with all of it and the public outcry has moved me deeply. It’s moved me into taking action, for holding myself and my business accountable for doing more.
Growing up as a mixed race female in an all white farming community, racism was a very familiar theme. My mother of Colombian heritage was discriminated against my whole life. It is something I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears my entire childhood and I will tell you…it hurts. It hurts a lot. Can you image the hate filled impudence it takes to blatantly spout racial slurs towards a woman and her child at a grocery store or restaurant or in the street, to a stranger you know nothing about? It blows my mind. But what’s worse is that it hasn’t stopped. It’s not something of the past. It’s now and it continues to greater and greater degrees for people of color in our country, especially black people.
So what can we do about it? Well one thing is for sure. You can’t be silent and think you’re being safe and noncommittal because that is it’s own negative action. Doing nothing is terrible. If you feel compassion and support for black people, don’t be silent. Start supporting them now. And if you are known in Lancaster or hold any ounce of influence or standing it’s even more important to support and lift and spread the positivity of change for black people in our town.
Speaking of positivity, I spoke yesterday with Marquis Lupton of The Cultured Professional and the part I loved about his outlook on his media network is that he wants to spread positive change with his programs while representing the disenfranchised. All too often positivity is what’s missing from our lives especially in connection with people of color and his network is an alternative to the news that is fed to us every day when we tune in. It’s an authentic connectivity and an approach to telling stories about what is happening in real time without the constraints of censorship with a vision of positivity. I’m so inspired by this. If you don’t see the representation that you want, you step up and make it a reality and that is what I intend to do as a person and as a business owner.
So, Zoetropolis will not be just donating to TCP and other organizations. We will be inviting more diversity into our business. We will continue the work of our film programming and build on it to have even more discussions about race and humanity. We will invite individuals and organizations to our space to be part of Zoetropolis, to take some time in the arthouse, to connect, collaborate and just have a great time together. We will be showcasing artwork all summer by artists of color inside the theater and are working on commissioning a larger piece of artwork for the courtyard that will focus on inclusion, diversity and the arts. We’re working on all kinds of projects and we are always open to ideas and suggestions. We are committed to supporting the black lives matter movement and the evolution of our culture towards positive change.
Love is good,
Do Black Lives Matter?
How can this even be a question? The answer is one that has been seen on the signs of numerous protestors “Matter is the minimum: Black lives are worthy, black lives are beloved, black lives are needed”!
I’ve had the privilege of thinking that we as a culture have gotten past this point but I needed the slap in the face wake up call that was long since overdue. How have I had this privilege? Primarily being a white man, but also being immersed in a beautifully diverse culture through my daily efforts as an urban middle school teacher for the past 15 years, right here in Lancaster. I’ve had the incredible privilege of getting to know students as the humans they are irrespective of the melanin they possess. Beautiful kind children as well as children that you wish nothing more for than just a touch more maturity so that they can be a little kinder. Knowing that as a school we strive to respond to the actions and efforts of each student regardless of their background, color, religion or creed.
I’ve known that outside the school the challenges that students face are significantly different than any challenge I have faced. My life has been a struggle. From food insecurity and other issues of poverty throughout my childhood to working a string of low paying jobs throughout my adult life. My life, however, is nothing like the struggle that people of color face in America. I’ve never had to worry that I would be targeted for harassment, imprisonment or murder based on the color of my skin. I’ve never had to wonder if I was blocked from a job or advancement because I was black. I’ve never had to feel the generational weight of a system that was designed to keep me oppressed and disempowered because of my race.
As a teacher of diverse students I always felt like I was doing the right thing, fighting the good fight. I’ve had the luxury in my subject area to be able to introduce lessons and themes based on the work of people of color. The challenge has been that this is simply not enough. Our school system in general, while aiming to provide a basic education, often misses the point. Curriculums are often written with a severe emphasis on European/White perspectives.
It does not take much scratching beneath the surface to find the disparities that exist when comparing behavioral consequences by demographics. African American students face more severe punishments than their white counterparts, much higher suspensions and expulsions.lack high school students are still twice as likely (12.8 percent) to be suspended as white (6.1 percent) or Hispanic (6.3 percent) high school students. (“Suspensions Are Down In U.S. Schools But Large Racial Gaps Remain”Kamanentz, Anna. 2018)
African American adults are much more likely to face police brutality(including being murdered!!!!) and imprisonment than their white counterparts. The school to prison pipeline is hard to ignore and seemingly impossible to deny when faced with the fact that over 5 times as many black americans are in prison than white americans( Calculated by the Prison Policy Initiative from U.S. Census 2010 Summary File 1.) Compound this with African Americans being 12.7% of the population and the disparity becomes all the more glaring with roughly a 40:1 incarceration rate per capita of black americans to white americans..
The higher percentage of African Americans who are punished both in school and in the US legal system is not due to some type of racial inferiority. It is based on a biased system. African Americans are imprisoned 5 times the rate of whites, in some states African Americans are imprisoned at 10 times the rate of whites. In many US states more than half of the prison population is black, with Maryland having the highest percentage of African American prisoners at 72%.(“The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons”, Dr. Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., 2016) )lists several examples of the disparities in the American prison system. Just by getting in a car, a black driver has about twice the odds of being pulled over, and about four times the odds of being searched. It’s unconscionable that you can be damned simply because you are black.
The percentage of public school teachers who are African American is 7% while the percentage of African American students is over 17% (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CDD), “State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education,” ) African American students who have had one black teacher by third grade are 13 percent more likely to go to college—and if they have had two black teachers they 32 percent more likely to go to college. (“The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers” , National Bureau of Economic Research.) The people in power in the lives of African Americans in the US are overwhelmingly white. For years I’ve wondered if my students would be better served if I stepped down in hopes that a teacher of color would become their teacher. Our segregated culture, yes even here in quaint Lancaster, has had the effect of removing much of the hope of success. Speaking from personal experience I have often found life to be insurmountable and I have never had to face outright oppression. I can’t imagine overcoming it. It’s a miracle that anyone has.
What is power and who holds it? We live in a capitalist society and that has come to mean that those with the money are those with the power. It has become all too easy for the money-power to create power in other arenas, even our so called democratic government. Is our government truly by the people and for the people? Make a list of ways that the government has failed at being by the people and it will need to include the electoral college which robs us of the popular vote and it ill also need to include lobbyists and campaign donations whose dollar power outpaces anything that the average American could even imagine. It’s become a case of the ruling class, the 1% if you will, making the laws and policies to benefit themselves and grow their wealth while maintaining a lack of resources for those in the bottom half. This master plan has helped create animosity among struggling groups who are left fighting for the scraps. History repeats itself. This has been an American tradition deeply rooted in our history, one example from more than a century ago being the draft riots of 1863 which were a matter of class and money among other things. The draft in question being a draft of soldiers to fight in the Civil War…
What does this mean moving forward, what can we do? We as a people have the responsibility to fight for equality. The real power comes in numbers. We as Americans have the responsibility to help those who do not have a voice be heard. We have the responsibility to stand up for our ideals of equality, fight for the safety of all races, fight against corruption- especially when the abuse of power is so prevalent AND SO DEADLY FOR BLACK AMERICANS AT THE HANDS OF POLICE. We have entrusted the police with what amounts to absolute power. As we have been witness to, time and time again, corrupt police officers have been allowed to belittle, abuse and even kill black Americans with little or no repercussions. Police reform is paramount. Fighting for equality is just as important. Equality will not only help eliminate raced based violence but it will also topple the power structure based on the opportunities afforded by race and connection. The opportunity to build and grow need not be limited by your race. By lifting up those who are disenfranchised and underserved we will be able to join together to grow the voice of the people into a roar that cannot be ignored.
My name is Leigh Lindsay.
I founded Zoetropolis about 26 years ago and am lucky enough to have not only survived this long as a female business owner, but to have stumbled upon partners that are 100% in line with the mission of Zoe. Movies, education, an escape from reality, and a hard punch in the face with reality.
I’m white, I grew up in Wernersville Pennsylvania, and my high school was 99% white. My main exposure to people of color was a home for “troubled kids” that brought diversity, along with a “reputation” to our school.
The day I graduated high school I moved to LA. Although I only made it 4 months, I was finally immersed in culture, and after living in Wernersville, it was honestly a breath of fresh air. I moved back to Lancaster and attended art school and soon stumbled upon a job traveling across the country building movie theaters where I was exposed to even more diverse people.
There was a town in Arkansas, maybe pine bluff if my memory serves me, where I walked through a mall with a co worker, and we were the only white people there. I remember thinking, it’s weird to be the minority. It was eye opening.
Presently I feel like all that we have done and tried to do really means little compared to the challenges that people of color face. It’s easy for me in comparison. That’s a hard pill to swallow. I would like to say my heart has always been in the right place, but now I get to really put my money where my mouth is with Zoetropolis.
I am so proud of everyone shaking it up. This is sooo long overdue. I for one am going to do better, do more, sit with open ears and eyes and mostly an open heart. I’m constantly afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing. I tend to shoot from the hip straight out my lips. I have a hard time thinking of this world as so shitty. I’m scared so many people fall in line with Trump, and I’m wondering why it’s so hard to be decent.
I have prided myself on my generosity and my constant trust of everyone. It’s part of who I am. I can’t stop and I don’t want to.
The past several weeks
have been revolutionary and I hope that we truly are experiencing a shift in consciousness, both as a community and society at large. As the current pandemic-related restrictions are gradually lifted, and our everyday routines start getting back to “normal,” how can we keep this momentum going? The word that keeps showing itself in my mind is discomfort. I have realized that one of the primary ways that my privilege shows itself is in my ability to stay comfortable. I could choose to keep my eyes and ears closed to the systemic racism and injustice that is inflicted upon people of color, and my life would remain unchanged – and that is a privilege. Meanwhile, these communities who experience inequity on a daily basis have no choice in the matter – this discomfort is a part of their life experience. If you are reading this, and you come from a place of privilege, like me, I encourage you to welcome discomfort into your life. Sit in the shame, embarrassment, grief, sadness and injustice so much so that the thought of staying silent is even MORE uncomfortable. Have these difficult, uncomfortable conversations with friends and family, and avoid cutting people out of your life who this revolution seems to be lost on. This is not an easy task, but it is an important one, because these are the people whose eyes, minds, and hearts need to be opened. As a business owner in Lancaster City I aim to use my voice, my privilege and my utter disgust for the oppression that our Black community faces, to perpetuate inclusivity, love, respect and connection, at Zoetropolis and any other organization/establishment I come into contact with. I love this community and I will continue to march with you, listen to you, and learn how to be an effective ally for change.
Time has expired.
The frequent cycle of inaction, lip-service and conciliatory gestures will no longer be tolerated. An interminable stream of violence and brutality toward our African-American brothers and sisters at the hands of Police and self-aggrandized vigilantes has finally…finally shifted our collective consciousness to its breaking point…and it broke. It broke so many things. It broke our hearts to hear George Floyd cry out for his ‘Mama’ as he struggled to breathe. It broke the social contract that we all implicitly abide by and where Locke posits “the defense of life is the only morally acceptable standard for the police use of deadly force”. It broke our ability to wait for modest, incremental improvements on these issues any longer. It broke alliances. The explicit nature of the video and murder of George Floyd sucked all of the recycled talking points, excuses and rationalizations out of the air so exhaustively, that everyone must be forced to break rank with the complicit immediately. This means even the traditionally non-political, specifically business, must use this moment and their platform to take a stand and demand concrete and comprehensive changes to the system.
As a straight, white man I struggled to sit down and write this. I felt my perspective would only allow me to take an academic approach to the conversation on race. I wanted to talk about systems and how we as humans navigate this complex network of systems on a daily basis. Systems like housing, education, employment, healthcare and the criminal justice system. I then wanted to walk through every, single one of these systems and point out how they were built, most in their very inception, to discriminate against minorities or take advantage of them for economic gain. From discrimination in lending practices and threatening the ability of the African American community to build wealth, to redlining, to Jim Crow and separate but equal educational systems that were everything but equal, the convict-lease system and disproportionate sentencing for African Americans. We must acknowledge the role race and discrimination has played in all of these systems to make real change – we must reimagine the constructs we have allowed ourselves to get so entrenched in when it comes to these systems and rebuild them on a new, more loving foundation of inclusivity. We will go first.
We will commit ourselves to listening and learning what is needed to affect real change from those individuals and communities directly. We will build diversity and inclusion criteria into our hiring, training, compensation and develop programs. We will continue to partner and build relationships with more minority-owned businesses and organizations and artists within our community. We, as a business, will stand up and fight for what is right at all times and every day moving forward as we have, individually, in the past. We will never be content. We will never be quiet. Humanity will always supersede business.
Black Lives Matter. It needs to be said because there is far too much evidence proving otherwise.
Todd E. Smith