Journalist Jemele Hill and two-time Super Bowl champ Malcolm Jenkins joined Don Lemon on Tuesday for a SXSW conversation about activism, racism and how Americans can move forward with their fight against white supremacy.
The panel, which helped kick off day one of the 28th edition of the SXSW Film Festival, began with discussions about the new Biden administration and its differences from Trump’s presidency.
“It does feel nice to wake up everyday and not be tormented by somebody’s Twitter rant or with generally bad behavior coming out of the office of the presidency,” Hill said.
While the Jemele Hill Is Unbothered host highlighted the relatively quiet days that follow nearly four years of Trump’s hectic headlines, she noted that Americans have to remain vigilant in holding elected officials accountable. Citing a Chris Rock joke about praising people for actions they’re expected to take, Hill added that Americans must resist the “temptation…[to] be a little easier on this administration for doing things that should have been the norm,” considering the norm and status quo has already jeopardized the livelihoods of Black and brown communities.
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“They made a lot of promises, they owe a lot of people, especially Black people,” she continued. “They have to go out of their way to show people they’re not just content to do things as they’d normally been done. Just because you’re nicer about it doesn’t mean the policies are any less harmful to people of color.”
Jenkins, who said that he feels Americans are “fatigued from the last four years,” said that time will only tell how Biden’s presidency will challenge the status quo that continues to harm communities of color. For the NFL star, “the legacy of this administration has to be hung on the financial freedom of Black Americans.”
The star athlete continued by noting that “Black people have always gotten it worse,” citing unequal opportunities in the education system and the disproportionate effects the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s just a symptom of the way we’re structured as a community,” Jenkins explained.
The conversation then shifted to a discussion about corporate activism following the explosion of Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020. Whether they were posting statements expressing their support for the BLM movement or taking responsibility for problematic actions in the past, Hill said organizations’ and corporations’ words mean nothing if there’s no action to back it up.
Instead of the “pretty little statements,” Hill instead hopes that big-name companies and organizations can show their support of the Black community through hiring and a diverse organizational chart, especially when hashtags and names aren’t filling social media timelines.
Like Hill, Jenkins said that the pageantry behind branding and statements holds no significance if there are no concerted and concrete efforts to change the culture. While there have been efforts to combat racism and white supremacy on a cultural level, Hill said that Black people are fighting against “a problem we didn’t create,” noting that it should also be up to white Americans and people in power to also combat racism and discrimination.
While they find some semblance of relief with the new administration, Hill and Jenkins said the Trump administration prompted conversation and desire to challenge the what’s been normalized or ignored, from police brutality to racist policy-making.
“The one positive thing from Donald Trump is that everything is back on the table. Everything we swept under the rug is back in our laps,” Jenkins said.
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