June 10, 2020

His name was George Floyd. We know his name. Their names were Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland. There are countless others, over many centuries, whose names are known only to their families. They were killed at the hands of police or at the hands of civilians who thought they had the right to police a Black American. They were killed because they were Black. But it was the video showing the final minutes of George Floyd’s life, the knee of a Minneapolis police officer pressing down on his neck, that was the spark that triggered large and sustained protests in every U.S. state and around the world.

The United States has long been, imperfectly, the global standard-bearer for human rights, individual freedom, and dignity; the “shining city on the hill.” Instead of the United States putting a spotlight on the shortcomings of other countries to protect their own citizens, the spotlight is now uncomfortably on our consistent failure at home to respect and protect the lives of Black Americans and all people of color. The world is watching as protesters loudly and insistently demand that we do better as a country and finally, seriously, meaningfully confront the racism that has always been a part of American society; that we finally live up to our founding principles by extending equality and dignity and value to all Americans. The protesters are on the streets every day. Maybe you are, too, expressing your personal pain or acknowledging the pain that Black Americans and all communities of color have suffered from institutionalized racism in the United States.

The World Affairs Council has been a part of this community since 1951, working to cultivate understanding across cultures, learning from one another, and fostering more thoughtful and humane communities. These incidents force us to look more deeply at who we are here at home. As an organization, we are listening to our local community, which is in pain. We are in pain. We stand with Black Americans and communities of color in insisting on racial equality in criminal justice, health care, education, and economic opportunity. The global pandemic made starkly evident the extent of the marginalization of Black Americans, who are dying at higher rates from COVID-19 and who are suffering disproportionately from the economic downturn. People are literally risking their lives during this pandemic to fight for the equal rights of all citizens. The promise of equality and respect for individual freedoms and human dignity has made the United States a global leader—but we have failed at home. The world is watching because the stakes of current protests extend globally. To insist on the protection of individual rights and the rejection of authoritarianism, we must rid the United States of the covert and overt racism that has held us back from truly being that “shining city on the hill.” Our failures have global consequences. We join with our community and with our country in support of Black Americans and all communities of color. Black lives matter.

Jacqueline Miller, President and CEO
World Affairs Council