George M Johnson on National Unrest: ‘That Point of No Return'

George M Johnson, a New York City-based LGBTQIA and HIV activist, is the author of “All Boy’s Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto,” a bestselling series of essays expounding on the young adult experience growing up Black and queer. They recently signed with Gabrielle Union and Sony TV to bring the memoir to television. Johnson also writes on a range of topics including race, gender, intersectionality, HIV, politics and culture, and is a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and a supporter of historically Black colleges and universities. Johnson earned their undergraduate degree at Virginia Union University and graduate degree at Bowie State University.

This is the sixth part of a series where civil rights leaders, cultural influencers, advocates and critical thinkers explain race relations, societal change, community protest and the political awakening happening in the United States following the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans. The group, including NAACP President Derrick Johnson and #OscarsSoWhite Creator April Reign, pose their thoughts on race relations during the summer of 2020 and how America may move forward less divided. Join the conversation on social media using #PassTheMic.

George M Johnson, Bestselling Author and Writer

George M Johnson

Each generation has had a fight in inching forward towards some form of progress, however, this time is a breaking point.

George M Johnson

Q: How would you describe the civic unrest occurring in America right now?

A: I would describe it as the more things change, the more they stay the same. America while in the midst of a pandemic once again proved itself to be what it has always been. A country built on racism and anti-Blackness. If Blacks aren't dying disproportionately from COVID, we are still dying at the hands of the police. Being Black in America in many ways is always living in a state of civic unrest. It is the necessary reckoning that America has always needed. Each generation has had a fight in inching forward towards some form of progress, however, this time is a breaking point. One that has already started to create changes on the superficial and symbols of racisms with hopes that systemic change, and even more abolishing of many of these systems can be a viable end goal.

Q: Is this a fleeting moment or have we reached an inflection point where lasting change is possible?

A: We are still protesting after four weeks so I would say this is about lasting change. As we are closing in on another presidential election I think America has reached that point of no return. A president looking to be a dictator and a country with 45 million unemployed during one of history's worst pandemics. The only option is change. Years ago I don't think many thought we would be able to get something as simple as getting the names of slave owners removed from buildings and schools and streets that Black people are now educated or reside.

Q: Is there another moment in history that relates to the moment we are living through now?

A: Every moment in Black history relates to the moment we are in now. It speaks to how hidden our fight has been in this country outside of those who have become civil rights icons. Rarely do we ever learn about slave rebellions or how slaves even tried to use court systems to escape slavery. That part of history becomes anecdotes to what white folks like Lincoln and LBJ have done to "give us rights," while upholding every system that oppressed us. Civil unrest from Black folks fighting for their liberation is part of our story.

A civil rights activist, attorney and writer explain race relations, societal change and the political awakening happening in the United States following the tragic death of George Floyd. When it comes to race, “systemic problems have plagued the nation for not only decades, but for centuries,” says Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The summer of 2020 is proving to be a moment for multiracial coalitions to come together, according to Fatima Goss Graves, TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund co-founder and National Women’s Law Center president and chief executive officer. Bestselling author George Johnson explains the revolution is being televised.

Q: What specifically needs to happen for Black lives to matter in the United States?

A: The abolishment of many of the systems built during a time when we were slaves. You can't function on a society of laws built during a time when Black people were property. The removal of things that are still ingrained in our oppression. There has to be a complete upheaval of thought, practice and policy for Black lives to matter. There has to be a reckoning of white America where it is not good enough to just say "I'm not a racist". White Americans are going to have to be anti-racist which is action. Actionable items and change in the lives of Black folks whose harm they will inevitably benefit from.

Q: What does social justice mean to you personally and why should others care?

A: Social justice is such a huge umbrella. It covers how we fight back against every system of oppression. It is the understanding of how all of these systems from healthcare, to K-12 to police brutality are not isolated, but in fact connected. It is how the connected fight with the collective is the path towards liberation. Personally, it's fighting the issues that directly affect me while advocating for those who it is my duty to protect and assist. People should care because it's literally the difference between life and death for many of us. It's not just as simple as turning away from an issue that you don't think affects you because one day you too might be fighting a similar struggle, one where you will need us. Folks should care because in many ways, fighting for equity for one group brings about necessary changes for another or the group you are in.

Q: What solutions will heal racial divisions and disparities?

A: Acknowledgement of the racism and anti-blackness to begin with. There are still many who are slavery deniers or apologists. That can't exist if this country is ever going to heal from the origins. We still operate under a Constitution and laws created when my ancestors were slaves. The National Anthem was written by a slave owner. You can't say you want to heal while wanting us to live in a constant reminder of what this country has done to our people. A complete overhaul of the system is necessary. Reform has been a practice in America for centuries but it's like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.

Q: How do you feel about the future?

A: I feel great about the future. I have to fight for a future for Black children that is better than mine. I'm also a person that understands the importance of hopelessness as it has related to the struggle for Black liberation. You will often hear people "hope" for a better future. But hope is oftentimes a word of inaction or being patient until someone else does the work to make it better. I've learned that much of our fight and wanting to change and take action derives from hopelessness. That making a way out of now way. That I have nothing else to lose but my chains. The future is Black because the past is Black. And I can only surmise that our future will be much greater from generation to generation if we continue building upon what the ancestors have given us.

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