Black Lives Matter. Three words that have sparked a national debate over a relatively simple concept: The lives of black people in America matter. And before you click away, I want you to ask yourself why? Are you uncomfortable? Good. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, because the days of catering to societal comfort are over. The time for change is now.

The recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Tony McDade are not isolated incidents. They are merely the most recent results of a system that has vilified blackness and weaponized black skin since this country’s inception. The system I am referring to is racism. Institutionalized racism takes many shapes and in order to dismantle the system that continues to oppress and kill black people, it is important to understand that racism is more than blatant or explicit bigotry.

Taylor Wilson headshotRacism is housing discrimination, food inequity, mass incarceration, underfunded schools, unequal access to sport, over-policing, voter disenfranchisement, the war on drugs, hiring discrimination, unequal access to health care and a flawed criminal justice system that far too often lets officers go unchecked for abusing their power. 

I am tired of seeing black people beaten and murdered by police. I am deeply disturbed by the lack of accountability for police officers who so blatantly cause harm, shielded by a blue wall of silence that seems impenetrable by the justice system. Over the last month, I have seen people who look like me, who look like my brother, who look like my father, brutalized and killed at the hands of the police. It is unfair, unjust and unconstitutional.

At first, I was angry. Then I was fearful, heartbroken, bitter and full of resentment until all of a sudden, I was numb. 

And with numbness came a familiar sense of anguish. A feeling of defeat. No matter how many names we add to the never-ending list of black people who've been wrongfully murdered in this country, nothing changes. It feels like screaming in your dreams when no one can hear you and suffering in silence as life goes on around you. It's waking up exhausted, not being able to explain why. It’s not wanting to check your phone or talk to anyone who asks, “How are you doing?” Simply put, it's draining.

I, a 20-year-old, am drained. 

I can only imagine how my parents feel or how their parents feel, having to relive the nightmare that is watching people from your community killed senselessly because to be black in America is to be inherently threatening. Because society tells us that in order to survive an interaction with the police everything has to be just perfect. Don’t move too fast, don’t move too slow, put your hands out the window, wait, no put them on the steering wheel, where is my license? A routine traffic stop can easily become a crime scene as was the case in 2016 for Philando Castile, who was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter.

So here we are, years later, in the middle of a pandemic still demanding justice and systemic change. Trying to cash the same check Dr. King spoke of in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Almost 56 years after the Civil Rights Act was signed, and black people are still fighting for equal protection under the law and the genuine right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

America can do better. America needs to do better. 

It took a video of a black man being pinned down in the middle of the street, in broad daylight, literally having the life choked out of him for people to finally look up and realize we need change, and we need it now. Call it an amalgamation of being quarantined for three months, pent up rage, I don’t care. Non-black people are slowly starting to realize there is a problem in this country and they are pissed. 

Everyone is finally acknowledging the fact that black bodies are viewed as dispensable. Playthings, to be discarded when they aren’t wearing your favorite team’s jersey or performing in any other arena that directly benefits whiteness in America.

Enough is enough. “Thoughts and prayers” is no longer a sufficient response to the atrocities that continue to plague black communities across the country. Stop saying you are with us and be for us. Not because it affects you, but because for too long this country has profited from the achievements, culture and lives of black people without holding up its end of the bargain.

White people: The time has come for you to sacrifice your privilege. Educate yourself on the ways your whiteness has benefited you up to this point and work to utilize your privilege for social justice. Engage in meaningful dialogue, read about black history, support black businesses, advocate for the end of police brutality and racism and demand structural change. Pride yourself on being a lifelong learner and consumer of knowledge. Focus on facts and form your own opinions. 

Please understand. All Black Lives Matter. It’s not just a hashtag, it is a movement, created to affirm the humanity of black people. Callously stating all lives matter in response to Black Lives Matter invalidates the experiences of black people and perpetuates the same racism that continues to murder us. 

Denounce racism when it's not convenient for you. In rooms where there are no black people. At parties when you hear people rapping along with the n-word. In every space, especially those in which you hold a position of power or influence, leverage your privilege. Do not stay silent. Be explicitly anti-racist and hold others accountable for their words and actions. 

We are at a pivotal point in this nation’s history. On the precipice of progress, the time has come for us to do the work. Black people cannot end racism. We can continue to lead, educate, and challenge, but we alone, cannot end racism. Racism will persist in this country until white people and non-black people of color who benefit from the many systems suppressing Black people do the work. Work that is challenging and uncomfortable, but nevertheless necessary. 

Racism will not just go away with time. Injustices being committed against Black people won’t magically stop if we pretend that we don’t see them. We have the chance right here, right now to start dismantling the very systems that continue to oppress and kill black people in this country. A chance to end the vicious cycle that has crushed generations, so America can finally begin to live up to its promise.

Let this be the last time our 50 states and countless countries have to protest the murder of a black person at the hands of the police. Assemble. Petition the government. Vote. Do something. Because to do nothing in the face of injustice is unacceptable.

If reading this made you uncomfortable, good. Get comfortable being uncomfortable because I promise you, this is just the beginning.

Taylor Wilson is a kinesiology major and who plays infield on the Maryland softball team.