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Pandemic provided tipping point for Black concerns to be recognized by wider audience, Duke professor says

Posted June 29, 2020 9:01 p.m. EDT

— The fight for racial equality has taken on different shapes and forms with each succeeding generation, from the Civil Rights movement a half-century ago to today's Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s funny because you grow up learning about those days and saying, 'What you would do if ...?' and 'If I were alive during that time ...' and it’s like now, you are,” said Precious Wilson-Pulley, an activist in Durham.

The protests in the streets that have occurred worldwide in recent weeks, as well as the removal of Confederate monuments, are described by some observers as a "third Reconstruction" for a new generation.

"Now is really a moment, I would argue because of COVID, that they’re drawing a line and saying, 'This is our opportunity to get the future that we want, and we’re going to do that for as long as it’s going to take,'" said Mark Anthony Neal, the James B. Duke Professor of African-American Studies at Duke University.

Neal said he believes the tipping point, aside from recent events of police brutality, was the coronavirus pandemic that exposed everyone’s vulnerability.

"Suddenly, you have this moment where the kinds of things that black folks have been advocating for for so many years are beginning to intersect with the needs of the working poor, working whites and so many others ethnicities,” he said.

The generational shift of activism is provoking some form of change, but now is the perfect opportunity to push for more, he said.

"These symbols – these statues, Confederate flags, Aunt Jemima and all of these things – they’re really low-hanging fruits," Neal said. "They are the easiest things to respond to in this moment."

"It’s not just about the statues that need to come down. There are some statutes that need to be changed in our legal system," Wilson-Pulley added.

While there’s no timeline or clear end in sight for the movement, activists say there should be a purpose behind every step.

"I applaud the people who are out here protesting," Wilson-Pulley said. "But now it’s time to have crucial conversations and actually see how do we change the direction we’re going for our country and community."

In order to see real concrete changes in their communities, Neal said, the same people marching and protesting must also show up to the polls and vote in November.

"Folks need to go to the ballot to make sure they elect the kind of officials that are going to be responsive to their needs," he said.

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