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I’VE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO ESCAPE SEGREGATION AND NOW WHITE PEOPLE CAN’T EITHER.

“Despite abject slavery of the most vicious, degenerate, immoral type, we stand taller, see further, and reach higher because we stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Emmanuel Felton BuzzFeed News Reporter

I still think about a joke my white classmate made nearly 15 years ago.

We were sitting in my high school’s courtyard, and Mardi Gras, a holiday that divides my hometown of New Orleans, was approaching. During the city’s famous parades, rich and poor, Black and white, gather on the streets. But the nights leading up to Fat Tuesday are filled with glamorous balls that cleave the city along racial lines. Most Mardi Gras krewes integrated in the early 1990s after Dorothy Mae Taylor, a trailblazing Black politician, prohibited segregated krewes from parading. But to this day, two hold seemingly all-white balls.

The joke we all pretended to find funny was about my classmate bringing her Black boyfriend to one of them.

A big part of my job is dwelling on what has not changed in the five decades since civil rights legislation ostensibly leveled the playing field. I can reel the facts off: Black workers earn just 82.5 cents on the white dollar. White families are, on average, 10 times wealthier than Black families. The Black homeownership rate stands at about 40%, virtually unchanged since 1968. Meanwhile, the share of African Americans who are incarcerated almost tripled in that time, and currently stands at more than six times the white incarceration rate.

I joke that I don’t report and write about these issues because I think anything will change, but instead because I’d at least like to make people feel bad about the country’s widening racial chasm. But, like my classmate’s joke in high school, it reveals a profound hopelessness that I’ve felt even more in recent months. I, like many others in isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, have battled mental health issues, which have only been complicated by witnessing the nation’s racial reckoning and backlash alone in my apartment, feeling powerless.

So during some of the nation’s darkest days in recent history, I turned to three veterans of the civil rights movement for help: former president of Howard University Joyce Ann Ladner; Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of the Little Rock Nine; and Harry Edwards, who led a boycott of the 1968 Olympics. Being an activist, after all, is an inherently hopeful act, rooted in the belief that action can inspire change.

How do they remain hopeful as they’ve seen many of the laws they fought for — and even saw their peers die for — be watered down or dismantled?

We were sitting in my high school’s courtyard, and Mardi Gras, a holiday that divides my hometown of New Orleans, was approaching. During the city’s famous parades, rich and poor, Black and white, gather on the streets. But the nights leading up to Fat Tuesday are filled with glamorous balls that cleave the city along racial lines. Most Mardi Gras krewes integrated in the early 1990s after Dorothy Mae Taylor, a trailblazing Black politician, prohibited segregated krewes from parading. But to this day, two hold seemingly all-white balls.

The joke we all pretended to find funny was about my classmate bringing her Black boyfriend to one of them.

A big part of my job is dwelling on what has not changed in the five decades since civil rights legislation ostensibly leveled the playing field. I can reel the facts off: Black workers earn just 82.5 cents on the white dollar. White families are, on average, 10 times wealthier than Black families. The Black homeownership rate stands at about 40%, virtually unchanged since 1968. Meanwhile, the share of African Americans who are incarcerated almost tripled in that time, and currently stands at more than six times the white incarceration rate.

I joke that I don’t report and write about these issues because I think anything will change, but instead because I’d at least like to make people feel bad about the country’s widening racial chasm. But, like my classmate’s joke in high school, it reveals a profound hopelessness that I’ve felt even more in recent months. I, like many others in isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, have battled mental health issues, which have only been complicated by witnessing the nation’s racial reckoning and backlash alone in my apartment, feeling powerless.

So during some of the nation’s darkest days in recent history, I turned to three veterans of the civil rights movement for help: former president of Howard University Joyce Ann Ladner; Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of the Little Rock Nine; and Harry Edwards, who led a boycott of the 1968 Olympics. Being an activist, after all, is an inherently hopeful act, rooted in the belief that action can inspire change.

How do they remain hopeful as they’ve seen many of the laws they fought for — and even saw their peers die for — be watered down or dismantled?

A Black woman, wearing a March on Washington pin, and a white woman stand side by side

Joyce Ladner (right) during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom political rally in Washington, DC, Aug. 28, 1963. NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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