From The Editor: Words aren’t enough against racism
By Maria D. James
“Hello, Hyattsville.” These two words were the headline of my first column for this paper in January 2015. Now, our journey together is slowly coming to an end. This issue will be my last as managing editor for the Hyattsville Life & Times. It feels bittersweet.
I feel honored to have a place in the city’s history as the first black editor of this newspaper, and I’ve held the title the longest. In the four years I’ve served in this role, I’ve witnessed both the best and worse in this community — and our country as a whole. As I’ve covered stories on important social issues of the times— immigration reform, racism, police brutality and crime — I’ve become increasingly aware that, in order to make a real difference, we must support our words with actions.
My heart broke as I watched the video of George Floyd, an African American who was killed in the Powderhorn community of Minneapolis, Minn. on May 25. While the details about the circumstances of his death are still under investigation, the video shows Floyd handcuffed and lying face down on a city street while a police officer kneels on his neck. The vision of the knee pressing against Floyd’s throat, and the sound of his cries for help have ignited a sense of rage, and people all across the world are calling for justice. We’ve seen the peaceful demonstrations, fiery riots where buildings and vehicles were set ablaze, and even violent clashes between protestors and the National Guard sent by the president of the United States. The rally cry that can be heard is, “Yes, black lives do matter.”
I have read comments in which the protestors are called thugs, and asking if it really takes “all that.” These comments fail to recognize that we are witnessing a volcanic eruption in reaction to hundreds of years of systematic racism and injustices delivered to African Americans here in the United States. While I applaud corporations and businesses for issuing statements in support of diversity and black voices, I would like to see them back their words with actions.
Racism and discrimination runs far deeper than what you see on the news. It infects our daily lives and is deeply rooted in the heart. It comes out in that quick switch to lock your car door when a person of color walks by. It is present when a derogatory word is thrown towards a person of color, that word that bystanders don’t question. Racism and discrimination is on the surface when it’s suggested that a person of color should just forget about the effects of slavery and Jim Crow. It comes when a person’s entire existence is regulated, as if they require permission to just exist in your space. And, of course, it happens, cloaked in the spirit of concern or safety, when the police are weaponized towards a person of color.
As we watch the cases of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor unfold in the days ahead, I challenge our community to do a heart check. The power of our voice comes in how we live. Remember that your silence speaks your approval.