Rashad Robinson advocates for Black people and communities as president of Color of Change, a digital social justice organization with 7 million followers. Robinson’s team leads campaigns to bring awareness to inequity and mobilizes followers to solve problems. He is working to implement anti-racist initiatives and to end mass incarceration. Robinson and fellow civil rights leaders recently met with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg via teleconference to address the spread of misinformation and its impact on communities of color, and those efforts are ongoing.
This is the fourth 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.
Rashad Robinson, President, Color of Change
Q: How would you describe the civic unrest occurring in America right now?
A: This is an uprising. People are rising up. And as millions of people rise up, certain ideas rise up with them. One idea: policing in America today is not really about safety. It’s about controlling Black communities. And it always has been, since the first police departments began as slave patrols. So, this is not about individual police officers or individual murders, but about the system they operate in, and how that system incentivizes violence against Black people, the financial exploitation of Black people, and the denial of rights and freedoms to Black people—the very freedoms that keep communities strong and healthy.
Q: Is this a fleeting moment or have we reached an inflection point where lasting change is possible?
A: We're giving people tools to keep the pressure focused on real solutions. We’ll see real progress only if we change the incentives that reward institutions when they harm Black people. That includes promotions, increased budgets and other benefits we see them reap for consistently doing racist things. Then, we have to increase the rewards for making people safe and making better decisions. That’s what this movement can create: real accountability. So prosecutors, police departments and politicians are accountable to justice, and not the bail bonds industry or a corrupt police union or the lies and hysteria about crime that we see promoted by news media.
Q: Is there another moment in history that relates to the moment we are living through now?
A: If we’re talking about what this moment means to Black people, and to all freedom-loving people, then this moment relates directly to every other moment across 400 years when a Black person said, “I can’t breathe.” If we’re talking about moments in which millions of people demand change, we’ve seen that every decade for a hundred years. But if we’re talking about moments of actual change, we haven’t seen enough of those. We need to make this the moment future people look back on for inspiration. The moment we made America commit to caring for Black people equally among others, rather than using us and abusing us for profit.
Q: What specifically needs to happen for Black lives to matter in the United States?
A: The forces of racism are interrelated. For example, you don’t end racist policing without ending the shows on television that make heroes out of police who occupy our communities, treat us differently from everybody else, and attack our freedoms, health and security. Crime shows, and many local news broadcasts, are doing that 24/7: serving as the public relations arm of the police, and of the status quo. They lie about crime. They pretend racism doesn’t exist. They stereotype us, and make it hard for non-Black people to identify with Black people and that our success and their success are linked. We got rid of a show like "COPS," but we have to change the whole industry of Hollywood, so they can no longer profit from racism and from the harm they cause us.
Q: What does social justice mean to you personally and why should others care?
A: To me, social justice is not about caring, it’s about acting. What can I do, or participate in, that will change the rules society lives by? Especially the rules that shut down opportunities, and cause harm for people, just based on who they are—whether Black or LGBTQ or women or people working at an Amazon warehouse or just trying to take a sick day. It means responding to stories of pain by participating in stories of power. Everyone has both stories inside them. Everyone cares about something, and for every “something” there is a way to take action—a way to make that “something” better, and way to find the best of yourself for doing it.
Q: What solutions will heal racial divisions and disparities?
A: Like Toni Morrison said, racism is a white problem. White people need to heal whatever prevents them from challenging the injustices they see their companies, peers and governments commit every day. Disrupting those norms. One way to do that is to take action. Taking action is very healing. It builds muscle. If you don’t take action, you just stiffen up. At Color Of Change, we’re creating tools that help people enact change. Our WinningJustice.org website allows people to hold any local prosecutor accountable: shine light on them, make demands of them, call them up. Our petition website allows anyone to launch a campaign and helps others follow the leadership of Black people into the fight for racial equity in healthcare, ending abuses by Big Tech corporations, and protecting Black-owned businesses
Q: How do you feel about the future?
A: I think about the future like I think about today: what is the opportunity to take action? The future is just someone else’s present. I think my role is to help make that future — that reality for others — a much better reality than the one we have now. But that starts with where we are now, and building the tools, the talent, the relationships, to change the rules that shape the future. And I want everyone to know they can be part of that. Just start anywhere. One protest. One conversation. One donation. And it’s amazing how naturally it builds from there.