Sam Cooke’s words—“It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come”—keep flooding my head.
It has been a long time coming, but change is here. We are standing squarely in it. In the last week alone, we have seen moves by local leaders to defund police and create systems of real justice. We have seen cultural institutions like NASCAR take a stand and ban the confederate flag from their events. We have seen memorials for colonizers and anti-Black historical figures tumble at the hands of the people.
We are in a moment that has culminated from the devastating loss of lives like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, Nina Pop, and Tony McDade, but we remember that this moment is part of a 400-year legacy of White supremacy and anti-Blackness that began with the first kidnapping and enslavement of Africans in 1619. It is a legacy that murdered Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, and countless other Black men, women, and children.
For Define American, this conversation is nothing new. It’s a space we’ve occupied since our founding almost nine years ago. As an organization rooted in immigrant freedom, we know it is our responsibility to look at the world through a lens of racial equity. Sometimes that means protecting our community from racism. Sometimes it means calling out racism within our community. More than ever, we see our role in this moment as holding the media accountable: both news media, for the way that journalists and media organizations cover the news, and entertainment media, for the often stereotypical portrayals of Black people and immigrants.
Last month, Define American hosted a Black + Gold Forum in which Black and Asian creatives and thought leaders discussed how our respective communities can address historical tensions and come together in solidarity. When unpacking the root of these tensions, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones explained it perfectly: “Anti-Blackness is part of your Americanization process. If you want to succeed in this country, you certainly aren’t going to align yourself with those who are on the bottom. You’re going to align yourself with those who are on the top.”
As an organization, we have long understood that the fight for immigrant justice cannot be separated from the fight for Black liberation. It is my hope that we have authentically put this mutuality into practice in all of our work, and it is my commitment that we will always strive to be better.
Back in 2015, I asked my friend, filmmaker Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, to help Define American produce a video profiling the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement: Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. I want to leave you with these words by Alicia that continue to resonate so deeply for me:
“We really need to be talking about this question of citizenship, which I think is huge. And I feel like what Black folks are fighting for in this moment is what we’ve been fighting for the whole time, which isn’t citizenship like papers but it’s citizenship like dignity—like humanity.”
Thank you for being a part of this moment. It is an honor to stand alongside each and every one of you in this fight.
Jose Antonio Vargas Founder Define American