On March 14, an Asian-American family of three was stabbed by Jose Gomez at a Sam’s Club. On February 23, Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead after being followed by Gregory and Travis McMichael, who had grabbed their shotguns and pursued Arbery in their truck. On September 17, 2019 Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal was shot twice in the head by Robert Solis as he was returning to his patrol car during a routine traffic stop.

These cases are not political; they do not require the public to pick between red and blue, left or right. They are hate crimes which shake up the very core of American ideals and values. It’s about humanity. Cases such as these beg the question: Is a need for justice not inherent within all humans? Are descriptions of these gruesome cases not enough to spark empathy and activism across all American households? After all, these heinous crimes occurred on American soil, the land of the free — but not free enough where people of color can feel safe going grocery shopping, go on a run or do their job. 

As an Indian American growing up in a typical Midwestern suburban household and attending public schools, I was always taught to salute the law and order in place to protect our communities and swell with pride when it comes to revisiting our nation’s history. While I feel privileged to be living in this country, as I grow older I question whether I’ve looked at our past through rose-tinted glass and how that affects my perception of our present and future.

The answer lies largely in the United States education system which perpetuates an idealistic, outdated vision of America. I was taught the oppression of an entire race of people, yet I was never informed of the years of generational trauma that would linger into my young adult years. I was taught racism and discrimination are wrong, yet was never directed to systemic instances of racism prevalent within institutions like education, healthcare and the justice system. Students sitting in public school classrooms are becoming more diverse, yet educators rarely hold discussions on how to combat the social issues which may lie in their future.

Racial equality should be an integral part of conversations in all communities of diversity and injustices of the past and present should be at the forefront of our depictions of American history. To bring about this wave of understanding, schools need to have greater transparency of the American narrative of continual racism and oppression. Racism and discrimination need to be defined and explained to students at younger ages. There should not be any hesitation in addressing these topics, as this is not political but rather about our existence. To believe that racism and discrimination will one day be eradicted is foolish, but to acknowledge past and present wrongs is not.

There are actionable steps that can be taken, including engagement in dialogue. Talk to your friends about these issues and instances. This should not be a controversial topic that is depicted with nuances. Cases like Arbery’s are clear cut as can be and it’s important that communities of all backgrounds take steps to completely understand atrocities such as these that take place everyday. Educate yourself on basic social issues and your place within the system. There is an incredible amount of literature that highlights stories of people of color and there is no better time than now to read up. Lastly, recognize your humanity and that of others. There is no substitute for human empathy and recognition.

Social justice should be the foundation of a country built on founding ideals of democracy and freedom.

Yet, history continues to repeat itself. We don’t have to let it. 

Aakash Ray can be contacted at aaray@umich.edu

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