Racism is a pandemic. Commitment is the Cure

Racism is a pandemic. But we can cure it if people in power have the commitment.

I am an immigrant from Chad, Africa. I lived in Oregon for the last 21 years. Six months after living in Portland, I was pulled over by 3 police cars while leaving my job at the airport. Three police officers, two males, and one female pointed their guns at me on both sides of my car. New to the country, I didn’t know what to do because all three officers were shouting and giving me confusing orders. I was pulled out of the car, handcuffed and brutalized. Then I was put in the back of the police car for an hour before the female officer came to ask me why I stole this car. Luckily, I carried the business card of the dealership where I bought the car with me, so I asked them to call the dealer. They called and the dealer confirmed that I had paid for the car in cash. By the time the handcuffs were removed, it was 1:00 am. The female officer said that I fit the description of someone who stole a car and was driving around the airport. My car was towed, which I got back five days later. Thankfully, the city reimbursed me for the towing and storage fees that I paid. I can go on and on with personal experience with racism in Portland.

As an immigrant and human rights activist, I am confused. My dream was to come to a citizen free nation where I will be able to enjoy this freedom, but the reality is different, especially for a black person.

As people share their outrage about the murders and false police reports in the recent news, many of us new Americans are scared, afraid, and frustrated. Real people have been killed who shouldn’t have been killed and most of the time, their killers have not been brought to justice. Some people are actively working to prevent the killers from being brought to justice. This is deeply concerning. Injustice must be exposed and condemned whenever it happens.

The country failed to live up to the ideals that are supposed to make our citizens free and our nation worth emulating and to ensure everyone enjoys full and equal opportunity. Racism shapes not only individual actions but, more dangerously, collective, civic, governmental, and official responses to everyday life. From traffic violations and college admissions to which mothers are cared for during childbirth and which are left to die. From which children are disproportionately disciplined in schools, to which type of hairdo is considered appropriate. Eradicating it means we need to confront, directly, the structures that sustain each individual and collective racist act.

The suggestion that if we ever criticize law enforcement we are saying all cops are corrupt abusers of power is also wrong. Sweeping our problems under the carpet, refusing to cover injustice when it occurs, and refusing to talk about it, makes it easier for injustice to continue. Demanding that we pretend racial tensions don’t exist in the name of putting on a unified face means that it’s ok for lynching to continue if enough people agree to just be quiet about it or try to smooth it all over. It’s already been going on for hundreds of years. Change comes, but it comes so slowly, and in the meantime, people die. Often, change doesn’t come at all.

If we don’t constantly demand it and show that there will be consequences, people will refuse to change. And I believe that’s what we see happening now. Those who sat silently, those with privilege and power are now speaking up. I hope it will turn into concrete, tangible outcomes to end racism.

Djimet Dogo