diversity & race | July 19, 2016

Exclusive: TED Speaker Rich Benjamin Reacts to Dallas, Baton Rouge, Minnesota

Diversity speaker and author of Searching for Whitopia Rich Benjamin is one of the most insightful voices on race and shifting demographics in America. After the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, Benjamin took to The New York Times to denounce America’s growing gated-community mentality. The following year, he decried the controversial George Zimmerman acquittal in Salon


And with times of discord and division upon us once again, we need our most informed minds to speak out. We reached out to Benjamin for comment. Here’s what he said:


“What more to say after the stirring funerals of the Dallas police officers, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s wrenching deaths, and the reprehensible killings of Baton Rouge cops?   

We cannot just ‘fix’ the police, and this festering violence, and not deeply, boldly confront the structural racial inequality in this country. It has been nearly three years since Trayvon Martin’s killing and George Zimmerman’s acquittal. I take at least some solace in the inspiring, bold activism that is fanning across our country. And yet I believe that change demands more than reactive protest and plain politics (important as they are). Given the profound, unfolding shift of who America is, a profound shift in our collective consciousness is required—a shift that makes possible a new America. 


The violence is not new. It’s only the technology that is new. And what is heartbreaking is that technology is taken as a more reliable narrator than black people. It’s only with the corroboration of technology that a poor black person’s trauma is truly believed. It’s taken all these horrific images meaningfully to spark this public debate. 


We’re seeing the gasps of a society frightened by the future: 2042 when the country flips from majority white to minority-majority. We’re seeing an aggressive effort to make the law color-blind in some instances (affirmative action, voting rights), but not in others (stop and frisk, racial profiling). In the absence of meaningful action by politicians to date, people are taking democracy to the streets with fixed minds, fierce hearts. They are creatively expanding what it means to be a citizen. They’re taking citizenship beyond the ballot box and the donation form into creative disobedience and ideas. The media claim how polarized this country is, but my travels and ears tell me differently: People yearn for deeper, more nuanced conversations, beyond tired polarities. Let it ramp up.”


Benjamin also appeared last week on Brazilian national news network Globo, in a segment discussing police violence and brutality in America. “I don’t think the law sanctions racism as explicitly as it did in the late ’60s ... It’s more difficult to combat racism now that you’re no longer combating explicit laws, i.e. segregation,” said Benjamin in the interview. 


“In some ways,” he continued, “Our laws are explicitly disadvantageous to blacks, and they’re designed in a way to sort of cover racist intentions in terms of criminalizing certain behaviors over others, treating certain communities differently than others. There are some concrete, basic policies that could be enforced in this country to minimize police brutality, and yet they haven’t been done. After Trayvon Martin, after Freddie Gray, after Eric Garner—and this is what frustrates people.” 


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