In March of 2021, TEDxMileHigh: Uncharted was dedicated to collectively finding our bearings as we began to emerge from the chaos and uncertainty that was 2020. In a sit-down discussion with Dr. Dwinite ‘Nita’ Mosby Tyler and past TEDxMH speaker, Representative Leslie Herod discussed the intergenerational fight for racial justice. Here are three takeaways from their conversation on the fight for social justice and how to continue the important work set forth during the BLM movement of 2020.
Dr. Tyler is no stranger to the TEDxMH stage. As a part of Imagine, one of our 2019 events, Dr. Tyler gave a talk about allyship and how to actively be an ally in the fight against racism. Her talk has since gone viral on TED.com with almost 2 million views. Representative Leslie Herod is also a past speaker. Her work with the Denver STAR program was the topic of her TEDxMH: Vision talk on the need for mental health first-responders.
Both women are doing incredibly important work within the Denver community and beyond, and their Uncharted discussion gives us powerful insight into that work and their hopes to reach equality within their lifetime.
Three Takeaways From Dr. Tyler and Leslie Herod on the Fight for Social Justice
Below are three main points from our discussion with Representative Herod and Dr. Tyler. These three takeaways are important, but their conversation includes much more. You can watch the entire discussion here.
1. Normalize vs. Accountability
After a lifetime of going by Nita, Dr. Tyler recently underwent a name change to reclaim her birth name, Dwinita. At 19, Dwinita was pressured by her first boss, who was white, that her name would not work.
“It was too Black,” she explains. “[I was told] that people would decide who I was, how to evaluate me, based on my name.”
Dr. Tyler changed her name to fit a norm. With her shortened name, Nita, she would be able to enter a room and make her own first impression, rather than her name doing it for her. But, that is a racist norm. Judging a person based on how their name sounds is racist, and rather than holding ourselves as a society accountable for that racism, we have normalized changing names to sound more acceptable — more white.
“There’s been a lot of pain in my life because I never was whole even in my own name,” says Dr. Tyler. “We are a country that is used to normalizing things. And we will normalize even the worst things and figure out a way to navigate around them.”
It’s time to hold ourselves accountable for the underlying, inherent racism that is still rampant in our society, rather than normalizing certain practices, like name changing, in order to fit a certain (white) standard.
2. What is Accountability?
So, what does it mean to be accountable? Well, there are more ways than one, and accountability can look different for each person. For Dr. Tyler, accountability is understanding the interconnectedness of all of our systems, and how racism in one area affects all of the others.
“We know that our systems in the U.S. were not built with equity in mind. What I don’t know that we know deeply is how intricately tied one system is to another, and so to dismantle one system really can create another effect in another system because I think they’re all webbed together.” — Dr. Dwinita Mosby Tyler
Consider all of the racial inequality that was brought to the surface in 2020. Police brutality was just one piece of the problem, albeit a very large problem that saw a lot of media attention. But, as the pandemic spread across the globe, inequality in health care became abundantly apparent, and as students moved to online learning, inequality in education surfaced as well.
This is the interconnectedness Dr. Tyler mentioned, and it’s important for us to realize that racism doesn’t affect just one of our systems. Racism in one creates racism in all of them, and that’s what we need to be working to dismantle
3. Roll it Forward
In the last year, cases of racial inequality and injustice have sparked conversations about race and how to combat racism across the country. However, Herod asks the important question, how do we continue to have these conversations with people who refuse to see or believe that racism is still a problem?
Dr. Tyler explains her ‘Roll it Forward’ tactic when approaching difficult conversions. “Typically what I will do is I’ll take a fact from the past and roll it forward,” she explains. “
If you take polling taxes from the past meant to disenfranchise Black voters, roll it forward. Roll it to 2021. What do we have as residual from polling taxes in the past that exist today?”
What comes to mind? Probably gerrymandering, redistricting, voter ID laws, all of these are policies that are residuals from the past that prove institutionalized racism. When you can break the conversation down into concrete, current examples, Dr. Tyler says people are much more likely to understand the problem.
The Work is Far From Over
In 2020, protesters took to the streets to advocate for Black lives and to stand up against police brutality. Dr. Tyler expressed her hope for the new generation of those in the fight for social justice, “This is a generation of young people who do not see this work as optional. It’s not an episode. It’s not a snapshot. And I love that, and that’s where my hope sits.”
While the headlining marches and rallies have slowed down, the work in the fight for social justice is far from over. We need to continue to have discussions, like this one with Dr. Tyler and Congresswoman Herod, that seek to expose the deeper racism that is woven throughout our society.