(Reuters) - After a week of protests against police brutality across the world, Lauren Young and Trevor Hunnicutt of Reuters spoke with Bakari Sellers, author of ‘My Vanishing Country’ and a former state representative from South Carolina, as part of our #AskReuters Twitter chat series. Below are edited highlights.
Trevor Hunnicutt: You say racism is killing black people right now in two ways. Can you explain how and why?
Bakari Sellers: Systemic racism is manifesting itself in the public lynchings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, as well as the state violence against Breonna Taylor. Black folk are also dying at startling numbers to COVID-19 due to systemic racism. One virus (systemic racism), two manifestations.
TH: There are a plethora of books on how to talk about race. How are these books making a difference?
BS: I’m hopeful that when people read books by Marc Lamont Hill, Michael Eric Dyson, Ibram X. Kendi, Wes Moore, Symone D. Sanders or ‘My Vanishing Country,’ they not only get a sense of pride but also understanding. We have an empathy deficit in this country that can only be cured by empathy.
Lauren Young: Should consumers hold brands accountable for systemic racism?
BS: I do believe that the voices of brands do matter and as we’re having these moments of cultural awakening, I think that voices, if they’re robust and strong, like Ben & Jerry’s, mean a lot.
I think that brands, individuals, celebrities, everyone is in a moment that we have to match. I’m interested to see who does because we can hold them accountable, especially as black folks, with our spending power.
TH: Could you talk about the rural/urban divide?
BS: The systemic racism we have to highlight when tackling COVID-19 is one that plays itself out in the lack of access to quality care. Not only that, but living in food deserts, drinking dirty water, inhaling polluted air — they all lead to these preventable diseases, they all lead to these co-morbidities, which means that black folk die at higher rates.
TH: Why do you believe Joe Biden needs a black woman as a running mate?
BS: Black women in the Democratic party have just been simply thanked for far too long. It’s time to empower them and give them a voice. My mom is going to vote for Joe Biden and so are her friends. We need to make sure voters are activated — meaning that black women will go out and make phone calls, get their sororities, stand up in churches on Sundays and do everything necessary to make sure that Joe Biden is elected president of the United States.
LY: How can we overcome racism among different ethnic groups and minorities?
BS: Stokely Carmichael defined racism as this: “If you want to lynch me, that’s your problem. If you have the power to lynch me, then that’s my problem.” Racism is a power construct, and we have to treat it as such, and tear down the systems of oppression that hit all of those groups.
Editing by Lauren Young and Daniel Wallis