Black Lives Matter: The American System of Racism

By: Emily Casillas

My name is Emily Casillas. I am a bi-racial (Mexican and Irish) cisgender[i] female. I have white privilege. I have not and do not live with the weight of discrimination and racism that plagues my siblings of color. I am putting this privilege to use, to advocate and raise awareness on issues of racism, equality, gender, and other defining cultural issues. I endeavor to report on this issue with sensitivity and respect, because I can never understand.

This is the first blog of a series of blogs on the history of racism in America.

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd, a black man, was killed by police while in custody. Derek Chauvin, a white male former-officer, dug his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd was subdued. He was in police custody.  He was handcuffed. His face was pressed against the asphalt. Floyd cried, “I can’t breathe,” at least 16 times with Chauvin on his neck.[ii] He lost consciousness. However, Chauvin did not relent. He kept pressing his knee onto Floyd’s neck.[iii] An hour later, George Floyd was pronounced dead.[iv] Floyd’s killing comes shortly after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, shot by a white former-police officer and his son, while on a run;[v] and Breonna Taylor, a black woman, killed in her own home in the middle of the night when police executed on a no-knock warrant, searching for a suspect who was arrested the morning prior.[vi]

These incidents are not new. They are not isolated. The #BlackLivesMatter Movement was created in 2013 by three black women: Alicia Garza, Patrice Cullors, and Opal Tometi.[vii] When news broke that Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder, Garza wrote a Facebook post in which she said: “Our Lives Matter, Blacks Lives Matter.” Cullors replied: “#BlackLivesMatter.”[viii] Thus the #BlackLivesMatter Movement began and became a symbol in the new era of civil rights.

The movement reached new heights in August 2014, when organizers staged a Black Lives Matter Freedom Ride through Ferguson, Missouri to protest the killing of Michael Brown, a black teenager, by former police officer Darren Wilson.[ix]

Since the commencement of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, people questioned: Why black lives? Why not all lives? What about brown lives? Blue lives? The answer is simple: America undervalued black lives for centuries. Whites enslaved Africans and brought them to America. First, they were counted as three fifths a person for purposes of federal representation.[x] Then they were “freed” and the slavery problem was “solved.” However, states undermined the 13th Amendment through “black codes.”[xi] African Americans were forced to use separate facilities, could not vote, could not own property, and were routinely killed for real and perceived slights against “white” authority.[xii] It was never “separate but equal,”[xiii] nor was it ever intended to be.  The legacy of those horrific failures continues today. The lives of black people are anything but “equal.” 

Racism against black Americans is rooted in our history, our culture, and our laws. It is a systemic issue. During the Great Depression, nonwhite neighborhoods were redlined as “hazardous.” They were denied federally guaranteed mortgages.[xiv] Many of those neighborhoods remain low-income to this day with 60% of residents predominately nonwhite.[xv] Blacks were run out of nicer neighborhoods through violence by white neighbors or even police officers.[xvi] Between the Reconstruction era and the Civil Rights movement, more than 4,000 African Americans were victims of lynching.”[xvii] They were lynched for organizing unions, asking for fair wages, and voting.[xviii] Black codes restricted labor contracts. They punished African Americans for vagrancy. The black codes created separate court systems which carried heavier sentences for black Americans, including the death penalty.[xix]  The intent and effect of these laws continue. Today, “African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.”[xx] These racist underpinnings deprive black Americans of the ability to gain health, wealth, and education. In the employment sector, “black workers are twice as likely to be unemployed as white workers at almost every education level.”[xxi] More African Americans are dying due to COVID-19, because of racial and social disparities in healthcare.[xxii] It is obvious that we, white Americans, have failed our black Americans.

Enough is enough! It is time for a revolution. It does not matter if you are black, brown, or white, this is our revolution. We are revolting against the oppressive government that harms our black siblings. We are revolting against racism, white supremacy, and bigotry. We no longer sit in silence, we fight screaming: “Black Lives Matter!”

White America needs to look in the mirror and realize that it is no longer enough to be “not racist” to terminate this system of racism. We must accept our harrowing past and create meaningful change through legislation. This series chronicles the history of treatment towards blacks in America. It will examine the early kidnapping of Africans to American colonies, original attitudes, and slave trade. It will study the effect of ending transatlantic slave trade; tensions between the North and the South; the Civil War and failed Reconstruction Era. It will scrutinize Jim Crow laws and continued state-sponsored racism. It will reflect on the Civil Rights era, the War on Drugs, the L.A. riots, and mass incarceration. It will then observe the modern era of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, and how it can be different this time.


[i] “denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.” https://www.google.com/search?q=cis+gender+definition&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS801US801&oq=cis+gender+&aqs=chrome.2.69i57j0l7.9723j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[ii] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/george-floyd-investigation.html

[iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/george-floyd-investigation.html

[iv] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/george-floyd-investigation.html

[v] https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/04/us/mcmichaels-hearing-ahmaud-arbery/index.html

[vi] https://htv-prod-media.s3.amazonaws.com/files/taylor-family-lawsuit-pdf-1589240098.pdf

[vii] https://blacklivesmatter.com/our-co-founders/

[viii] https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/black-lives-matter-growth-new-social-justice-movement/

[ix] https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/

[x] U.S. Const. Art. 1 Sec. 2

[xi] https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-codes

[xii] Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1986)

[xiii] Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1986)

[xiv] https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/reports/2019/08/07/472617/systemic-inequality-displacement-exclusion-segregation/

[xv] https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/reports/2019/08/07/472617/systemic-inequality-displacement-exclusion-segregation/

[xvi] https://theconversation.com/the-fury-in-us-cities-is-rooted-in-a-long-history-of-racist-policing-violence-and-inequality-139752

[xvii] https://theconversation.com/the-fury-in-us-cities-is-rooted-in-a-long-history-of-racist-policing-violence-and-inequality-139752

[xviii] https://iaphs.org/400-years-of-chains-the-over-policing-of-black-bodies-and-the-devaluing-of-black-pain/

[xix] https://www.crf-usa.org/brown-v-board-50th-anniversary/southern-black-codes.html

[xx] https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/

[xxi] https://www.epi.org/publication/labor-day-2019-racial-disparities-in-employment/

[xxii] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/racial-ethnic-minorities.html

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