In his letter-memoir to his son, Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates delivers a rebuke to America and one of many possible epitaphs for 2020: “You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them.”
Revelations in the year’s waning days of repeated deadly police violence against Blacks in Columbus, Ohio and their failure to follow video recording and emergency medical protocols remind us that America’s reckoning with its racist past will long remain a work in progress. Policies to ensure equal justice must be ingrained and most white Americans must be retrained to recognize the distress of black Americans we had somehow failed to see.
2020 may be a year Americans would rather forget because of the Coronavirus pandemic. But as the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov taught, “In remembrance lies the secret of redemption.” If our centuries-overdue awakening to the enduring presence and effects of systemic racism spurs us toward sustained efforts at police reform, criminal justice reform, education reform, housing reform and healthcare reform, then both America and 2020 might yet be redeemed.