Over a century ago African-American educator and activist, W.E.B DuBois argued the dilemma, "Am I an American or am I a Negro ... does my black blood place upon me any more obligation to assert my nationality than German, Irish or Italian blood would."
Du Bois' simple question raises a complex reality when he examines his identity in relation to race. It speaks to the obstacles that people of color in America confront when trying to attain what others achieve in their education, work and housing because their status as an American is treated differently. While the struggle for the basic necessities in their lives continue, their mortality is also affected through their daily encounters with others in stores, while driving, and simply walking down the streets where racial profiling persists.
While people of color have encountered violence and death repeatedly through the years, the recent atrocities have raised the ire of not only Americans but also the world to demand reform within many institutions. Unfortunately, it took the glare of media coverage to create a catalyst for communities to galvanize and take steps to show the need to create change.
Need for change can be triggered when a condition negatively impinges on lives where they feel personally threatened while others may feel the situation is so morally offensive that the community works to facilitate change. These sentiments create an urgency where the numbers of those affected will determine the level of involvement.
Racism task forces can be set up in neighborhoods where issues can be prioritized and raised with local agencies. Many social workers have followed the community organizing principles of Saul Alinsky and with today's varied social problems and unrest, social workers have a part to play with reform.
Racist events should also force us as individuals to raise our own awareness to act. When one witnesses a racist comment or action, enlighten the other person's thoughts through dialogue. Not taking risks leaves us complacent and comfortable with no hope for change.
I am a native New Yorker who practiced social work in Boston and retired in Virginia. Racism is not just endemic in major cities but thrives in all communities.