Words and images have meaning. They have weight. And they have consequences.
In America, the most powerful and dangerous of these words and images were born in times of intense oppression and hatred. These racialized depictions and icons of speech litter our current political landscape in the form of seemingly innocuous rhetoric such as “build a wall” to yearbook photographs of figures in blackface.
Though Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, and now Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, are at the center of this latest controversy, the true problem does not begin or end with these two men. It did not begin or end with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile or the litany of other Black lives. It did not begin or end with the tacit endorsements of white supremacist violence from our nation’s highest office. None of these events caused the racially charged violence plaguing our country.
Instead, they are the consequence of our nation’s collective unwillingness to recognize that 400 years of dehumanizing language and imagery have a cultural impact that expresses itself through explicit and implicit bias.
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