White Supremacy is America’s Status Quo.
Truth and Reconciliation is the Beginning of Healing & Equity.
Authors: Wendy Ellis, DrPH, Director of the Center for Community Resilience at The George Washington University, Tia Sherèe Gaynor, PhD, Director of the Center for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation at the University of Cincinnati, and Laura Huerta Migus, MS, Executive Director of the Association of Children’s Museums
Note: Originally published January 18, 2021 in The Columbus Dispatch: Racial healing requires truth and reconciliation.
Six days into the new year, a mob of thousands of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and attempted a coup. Symbols of white supremacy — including a noose strung atop a working gallow, giant Confederate flags, and clothing with phrases like ‘Civil War’ and ‘Camp Auschwitz’ — were everywhere. There is much to be said about how the U.S. got to this point, but it all comes down to one thing: for far too many years, this country has been unwilling to confront its racist roots.
For centuries, narratives in the United States have projected a country and society created for the people, by the people; an image of a democracy built on the promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In reality, this narrative fails to acknowledge, and more importantly reckon with, the incongruous truths of the country’s journey to becoming a superpower. Many of the acts that supported the birth of our nation have been romanticized in the stories of our first “Thanksgiving” and through plantation tours and weddings that celebrate a genteel antebellum south, while the truth of colonialism, genocide of Indigenous people, and mass enslavement is systematically ignored or reduced to aberrations rarely discussed in history books or public forums.
As a society, we have to tear down the facade and false narratives embedded in our country’s history and see it for what it truly is: an interconnected pattern of intentional actions grounded in a belief in white supremacy and codified into policy and practice to ensure the socioeconomic superiority of a select class of white, heterosexual men. To effectively address the systemic inequities present in today’s society, the truth of U.S. history must be told.
What is truth and reconciliation — and why do we need it?
Truth and reconciliation is about developing a pathway for restorative justice to acknowledge the harms perpetrated against individuals and communities and commit to healing. In the U.S., great harm has and continues to be doled out on the basis of race, a social construct invented centuries ago to classify whiteness as superior. As a result, white supremacy is now deeply entrenched as the status quo and structurally embedded into policy and practice in every U.S. system.
In the U.S., people of color experience disparate social, health, and economic outcomes compared to their white peers, including but not limited to COVID-19 infection and death rates, incarceration rates, and employment and educational opportunities. This is no coincidence. It is inequity by design, centering whiteness as the default and producing better health, wealth, and wellbeing for those in proximity to whiteness. Yet, because racial narratives are not rooted in truth, those outcomes are often explained as biological or behavioral, intrinsic to race, and therefore unavoidable. These narratives serve to justify racial inequity, reinforcing society’s comfort with white supremacy as the status quo. But what is comfortable for some is oppressive, and even deadly, for others.
White supremacy within the labor, housing, and education sectors is why the racial wealth gap has gone unchanged for half a century, limiting the upward mobility of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people. In the U.S. criminal justice system, white supremacy informs police treatment that differs by race, evidenced by the public execution of George Floyd for a counterfeit $20 bill, while domestic terrorist Dylann Roof was peaceably arrested and offered Burger King after murdering nine Black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church. In the U.S. healthcare system, medical racism results in the premature deaths of Black women and girls like Dr. Susan Moore, age 52, and Kimora Lynum, age 9, who were refused access to healthcare that could have saved their lives.
Acknowledging the truth about the history and traumatic impacts of white supremacy in everyday life will allow our society to begin to reconcile both the systemic and individual harms it has wrought. That is why we are leading a multi-sector initiative to facilitate a truth and reconciliation process that promotes racial healing in one of the nation’s most racially and economically segregated cities: Cincinnati, Ohio.
Truth, racial healing, and reconciliation in Cincinnati: A local approach to a national issue
Our Cincinnati Truth and Reconciliation initiative is part of a growing national movement of communities working collaboratively to end harms caused by racial injustice, dismantle structural racism, and reconstruct systems with equitable policies and practices.
We cannot do this work alone. We need people like you to engage with our coalition of local organizations — All In Cincinnati, Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati Public Schools, Elementz, Joining Forces for Children, Learning Through Art, Inc., the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and the University of Cincinnati’s Center for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation — and help transform the way we talk about, process, and repair racial harm.
Getting involved is simple. You can start by viewing a museum exhibit on the history of slavery, listening to a recorded panel discussion on how to better address racism within your community, or learning more about the Cincinnati National Day of Racial of Racial Healing event held virtually on January 19. These types of activities help create a shared understanding of the region’s history of structural racism and the real-life impacts of racial trauma. With that understanding, you can then help inform and advocate for local policy changes that reject the notion of white supremacy and undo structural racism.
The work ahead of us is enormous. While the end result — equity — is ambitious, we are dedicated to supporting our community partners in their effort to use truth as a means to create a pathway to racial healing and reconciliation.