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Fighting racism is the work of a lifetime, and it will take all of us

SHARE Fighting racism is the work of a lifetime, and it will take all of us

Protesters lay down with hands behind their backs, during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, England, Thursday June 4, 2020, in memory of George Floyd who died in Minneapolis.

Associated Press

It’s one thing to read about slavery, segregation and racism in books. It’s quite another to confront it personally. As a first-year teacher in 2009, I knew statistics showing people of color were more likely to be stopped by the police, but I hadn’t considered it might be a problem here in Utah, or in my classroom. I was stunned when students of color in my government classes described their experiences frequently being pulled over and questioned by law enforcement for trivial reasons. It was a common refrain I could not explain away.

As a member of the Army National Guard, I have colleagues who work in law enforcement and security services. Like doctors who take an oath to “First, do no harm,” those I know are good people sworn to serve the community. However, it is an established fact that outcomes between whites and non-whites in health care and interactions with law enforcement differ significantly.

How do we reconcile these conflicting realities?

Racism exists. It is driven by stereotypes that are common in American culture. We may not “see” the stereotypes we grew up with, much like a fish may not recognize the water it swims in. But what is happening in our country now presents an opportunity to confront difficult realities and work to build a more perfect Union, with liberty and justice for all.

I faced these paradoxes again when football player Colin Kaepernick took a knee and was met with outrage. Students asked my opinion. As a veteran, I admit I feel angry when people disrespect the national anthem or the flag, but I am also angry that people of color live in fear. Living is fear is not freedom. As a history teacher, I recognize the vital importance of First Amendment rights of free speech, peaceable assembly and petition for redress of grievances — rights I swore to protect as a service member. When these rights are infringed, protest is necessary. This is deeply ingrained in American history from colonial days.

There is still much work to be done to reach a point where Black Lives Matter, truly matter, as much as anyone else’s. Footage of the Minneapolis police officer with his knee on George Floyd’s neck is shocking and repugnant. I honor all the heartbroken mothers of black men, women and children who died at the hands of vigilantes and unprofessional police officers. I take heart in the leadership of Utah’s minority elected officials and community leaders who are speaking out. I take my lead on next steps from them. But it’s on all of us to do the work.

Unfortunately, racial inequality is ingrained in American history and culture. We must root it out of ourselves and our communities. If you are a person of color, I’m with you in this struggle. I hear your anger and will elevate your voice in these conversations. I will stand by you. If you are a white person like me, it is your responsibility to educate yourself, reflect on your actions, and be an ally. Join those who have been doing anti-racist work for years. Stand up like southerner Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, former Jazz player Kyle Korver and Gail Miller to support our brothers and sisters of color. A colorful world is richer for all of us.

This is the work of a lifetime and it will take all of us — together — to make a permanent change. 

Deborah Gatrell is a teacher in Granite School District, a member of the Utah National Guard and a candidate for Salt Lake County Council, District 2. Her views are her own.