Eastern North Carolina is a beautiful but insular place. This piece is for folks who feel distant from the anti-black racism and violence happening in our country, who can’t understand why tensions have boiled over into riots, who still question if Black Lives Matter. I want to start a conversation, because if these questions aren’t asked out loud, we’ll never move forward.


Q: Why are we talking about racism in 2020?


A: Because racism – both interpersonal and institutional – is still killing people.


Couching discussions of race into history lessons is dangerous. It lulls us into thinking that racism is part of a by-gone world. As our black brothers and sisters know all too well, racism is alive.


Interpersonal racism is carried out by individual people. It reveals itself in tasteless jokes, racial slurs, and the list of folks we don’t invite to dinner. Institutional racism, on the other hand, describes inequities encoded in policies and systems. For those of us who are not directly harmed, the shackles that continue to oppress our black neighbors often remain invisible. However, if you look closely, racist policies determine who accumulates wealth, who lives in which neighborhoods, who’s children attend the nicer public schools, and who is more likely to go to prison. These systems intentionally maintain a status quo that harms black Americans.


Institutional racism and interpersonal racism intersect. The most striking example of this is racialized police brutality. Too often, prejudiced police are weaponized in the context of a justice system that does not mandate racial bias training and that intentionally targets black communities. The result is the murder of innocent black men, women, and children. I am not saying that all police officers are individually racist. Instead, I am saying that the justice system is inherently racist, because it enables the murder of black folks with impunity.


If you need evidence beyond the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tony McDade, consider this: In the United States, 1 in every 1000 black boys and men will be killed by police. 1 in 1000. This is why there is widespread public outcry. This is why our black neighbors are terrified and angry. This is why there are still race riots in the year 2020.


Q: Okay I get it – racism is despicable and violent and unforgiveable. But why riot?


A: Riots are inevitable when peaceful protests are ignored.


The word “riot” is dangerously political right now. Economic losses sting, in the midst of a pandemic more than ever. However, history often celebrate riots – the illegal destruction of property to prove a political point – as forerunners of reclaimed liberty. For example, we revel in tales of the Boston Tea Party, in which angry men we now call our “Forefathers” looted a ship to protest taxation.


In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Riots are the language of the unheard.” Today, black Americans are rioting because they are being murdered. They are rioting because their murderers are not being held to account. And mostly, they are rioting because they believe it is the only way things will change. If we want the violence to stop, we must stop perpetuating it.


Q: What does it mean to stop perpetuating racial violence? I’m not racist. Is that enough?


A: Anti-racism is the way forward.


Rejecting racism in your own life is the first step, and it is so important. But simply “not being racist” is not enough. We must work to actively be “anti-racist,” because racial violence is perpetuated by systems already in existence. Unless we advocate to dismantle these systems, we are complicit.


As a white woman, I will never truly understand what it means to fear racial violence. But I can use my privilege to stand in solidarity with the black community to build a more just America. I remember when I first began to enter these conversations, I wasn’t sure how to begin. I didn’t want to say the wrong things. But over time, I have learned that the only wrong answer is silence. Even if you’ve never spoken out or advocated for racial justice before, now is the time to join the movement.


If you are looking for ways to take the next step, donate to the memorial funds of Ahmaud, Breonna, George, or Tony. Learn as much as you can about racism’s past and present. (For a short intro, I recommend Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones’ 3-page piece called “Levels of Racism: A Theoretical Framework and a Gardner’s Tale.” It’s free online and enlightening. The book Just Mercy is also next on my personal reading list and is supposedly fantastic). Most importantly, take the time to have conversations about race and racism with your friends and family. Declare boldly, through your actions and your words:


Black Lives Matter.


Logan Nicole Beyer, New Bern native, MD/PhD candidate, class of 2023 Harvard Medical School.