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Statement from Ciji Carr-McManus on Social Justice

To the Rutgers School of Social Work Community and Beyond,

I am writing this open letter to not only express my current state of emotion, but also in hopes that you will receive my message with the intention of understanding and focus towards TRUE change.

By now, we are all fully aware of the recent events that have transpired regarding the violent murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers. We are also fully aware of the outcry from the African American community and our allies to stop the mistreatment and social injustices that have plagued this country for hundreds of years.

To be transparent, I AM NOT OK! I wholeheartedly believe that if you ask any person of color they will tell you the same. Over the past few weeks, we have not only watched George Floyd call for his mother while his final breath was stolen from his body, but we also watched Ahmaud Arbery get brutally gunned downed by white residents who (not so randomly) decided he did not belong in the neighborhood. We have also watched Breonna Taylor be murdered in her own home by police who were looking for suspects that were already in custody. Although these instances have shocked the world, this is not a new story to us.

Not only are we experiencing the trauma unfold, we are also dealing with the expressive outrage of those that believe a protest for haircuts is more important than a protest to protect black lives.  Since the murder of George Floyd, I have seen the acknowledgment of white privilege more than I have in my entire 36 years of living.  I pose the question – why now? It cannot be because videos are surfacing, because we have seen many videos dating back to the 1991 beating of Rodney King. It cannot be due to the pressures of social media, because we have had outcry on social media back in 2009 when the police killed Oscar Grant. Nothing is new about this situation, so I ask you all… WHY NOW? Why do you feel empathy for us now? Why is white privilege suddenly being recognized now? Did the world have to shut down and did we all have to be confined to our homes for some people to open their eyes to see what black people have been telling you about for hundreds of years?

Last weekend, as I walked down Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia with a Black Lives Matter sign, or this week as I chanted George Floyd’s name up and down the Route 130 corridor in New Jersey, I realized that I have been here before. I’ve marched for Trayvon Martin, I’ve screamed for Sandra Bland, I’ve cried for Mike Brown, I’ve lost sleep over Kendrick Johnson, and through it all, I’ve prayed endlessly that my family never becomes a victim of America, the way they all have.

Do you know what it is like to leave your house for an evening snack, just to be pulled over for obstruction of view and forced out of your car by two white officers in a dark, wooded area? Do you know what it is like to be told to stand with your hands up in front of a police car so that the dash cam could catch all of your fear?  I do. I was only 19, and my “obstruction of view” was having a car freshener hanging from my rearview mirror. Sounds hard to imagine, right? Who knew having a Little Trees car freshener would be breaking the law. I had so many questions. How did the officer see the car freshener from the opposite side of the road at night? Why did I never learn about this law in driving school? Why do they sell these items if they are illegal? I knew all of the answers, but I continued to try to rationalize it. You see, I was not pulled over for my car freshener. I was pulled over for D.W.B (Driving While Black). Because we feel so voiceless in America, at that time I did what we have always done best: shut up and take it. But I refuse to be silent anymore!

It is important to understand that black and brown men and women have been silenced more than you can ever imagine. We fear retaliation; we fear the stigma that comes with us sharing our voice. We know that we live in a world where we cannot show any level of dismay, disapproval or dislike without the label of angry, volatile or dangerous being pinned on us. We also know that our white counterparts can outwardly show disrespect, speak their minds freely and are instead labeled as passionate or concerned.

Therefore, before you tell us you understand, and before you acknowledge your white privilege, please consider what change you are willing to make. Has white privilege been recognized enough to extend beyond expressions of empathy and instead towards true change? Will you evaluate the organizations and systems that you are a part of and acknowledge the true disparities? We must collectively vow to outline advocacy/change tactics towards more inclusivity.

I end this letter with a message to all who are privileged. To those that have sat silently, never mentioning the anguish or recognizing the trauma experienced by black, indigenous, and people of color – I want you to know that your silence is the loudest message you could ever send. It is not business as usual. It cannot be and it will NEVER be!

To those who are privileged that have stood up for change, I extend a genuine thank you from the heart. To those of you that have said something, I appreciate your VOICE. To those of you that have marched, donated, or signed petitions, I appreciate your PRESENCE. Most importantly, to those of you that will not stop the fight once the hashtag changes, I appreciate your ACTION!

Sincerely and loudly,

Ciji Carr-McManus

For a list of resources and actions, including petitions, numbers to call, and places to donate, as well as anti-racist readings, resources for protecting oneself, and additional information around demanding justice, visit our social justice resources page.

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