By COURTNEY SMITH
Two weeks ago today, Derek Chauvin was convicted of the horrific murder of George Floyd to a nationwide sigh of relief. While we are delighted in the historic ruling, within 24 hours of the verdict, six more Black and brown lives were taken at the hands of police around the United States. Make no mistake, real justice would have been George Floyd returning home to his loved ones and his family last May 25. The conviction of Chauvin — a Minneapolis police officer at the time of Mr. Floyd’s death — amounted to accountability but did not amount to justice.
Black, Indigenous, and people of color are exhausted. We are drained from seeing the horrifying headlines. We are traumatized by the continuous and widely disseminated video lynchings. We are gutted every time we see another BIPOC face across our screens murdered at the hands of police. We at the Montana Racial Equity Project ask ourselves: Will this ever end?
Last summer was a moment of reckoning for the city of Bozeman and the surrounding area. Thousands of people showed up in support of Black lives and to protest the killing of yet another black man at the hands of police. Just because Chauvin was convicted does not mean that this fight is over. There are countless BIPOC lives for which we still await accountability including Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, Adam Toledo, Daunte Wright, and so many more. While public support is great, true allyship takes substantive and uncomfortable action.
True allyship requires confronting systemic racism in everyday life. White people have to do the work to call themselves true allies for racial equity.
You must continue to educate yourselves on the history of oppression against marginalized people in this country. You must reach out to your friends and neighbors and encourage their education
and action as well. White people within the Bozeman area must continue to act and must continue to lift their voices in support of BIPOC lives while respecting the dignity and the lived experiences of BIPOC in this community and around the state.
White people must also educate themselves on the growing racial wealth gap in this country. There are extreme disparities in wealth between White households and Black, Indigenous, and Latinx
households. For every $100 of wealth a White family has, a Black family has an average of $5.04. The median household income for a white family is $66,943 compared with $40,315 for the average Indigenous household; $41,361 for the average Black household; and $51,450 for the average Latinx household. This wealth gap, based on centuries of broad and virtually crippling systemic racism, is devastating to BIPOC families and continues to grow. Are your employers or organizations actively addressing this disparity? How are you using your privilege to advocate for change?
As a white person, what historical policies have you benefitted from that enabled you to maintain wealth? Are your BIPOC co-workers, neighbors, and/or clientele treated with dignity and respect
and not automatically assumed to be criminals and of low intelligence?
As BIPOC, we are still actively fighting for our own rights but often we must judiciously use our voices and agency for change. Montana has a number of active white terrorist groups which put
all of us at risk, especially those of us of color. Despite the risks, we continue to advocate for ourselves and our communities. BIPOC lives are literally on the line every single day by virtue of navigating this state within our skin.
MTREP has been and will continue to advocate for racial justice and equity throughout the state of Montana but white people must be the voices for change within their communities — at work, home, and within their spheres of influence. Time will tell if the Rallies for Black Lives in 2020 were a true movement for white allyship or simply a moment that some falsely believe ended with the Chauvin verdict. BIPOC are still dying. The time for action and true allyship has only just begun.
Courtney Smith works for the Montana Racial Equity Project.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle Guest Editorial 5/4/21