Oscar Holmes IV

It’s not just police brutality that kills Black people in America; some systems and traditions do so more surreptitiously. 

Oscar Holmes IV is an associate dean at Rutgers University-Camden who has spent the past few years researching the topic and, earlier this year, released a TEDx Talk on the subject. “It was always my dream to do a TED Talk, but I never knew what the topic would be,” Holmes said. So, when TEDxRutgers-Camden held its first event, themed “Brand New Ending,” Holmes immediately knew he was interested. TED Talks feature speakers presenting – in under 18 minutes – an idea focusing on technology, entertainment, or design, through art, science, and other global issues are frequently discussed. TEDx Talks, such as Holmes’, are independently run events with more regional interest. Holmes’ talk, “Police Brutality and the Less Conspicuous Ways Racism Kills,https://frontrunnernewjersey.com/2022/03/07/dr-oscar-holmes-iv-on-tedx-police-brutality-tip-of-racism-discrimination-iceberg/ is based on a similarly titled research paper that initially touched on four more covert ways racism erodes. These included “the perennial expectation that Black people cater to other people’s needs” and the belief that providing education and wealth to Black people can reverse the nation’s racial woes. “There’s thinking that America is a panacea of racism,” Holmes said. Holmes, regarding that second point. “(That thinking is) if we just get better food, if we just move to a better neighborhood, racism will end. Obviously dedication and money can offer a degree of protection, but it is not a panacea of racism.”

Oscar Holmes IV–Rutgers University School of Business–Camden, NJ (Facebook photo)

However, the shorter format of TED Talks demands tighter pacing than Holmes’ original essay. Thus, he narrowed his TED Talk to two points: the expectation that Black people alone solve racism and the danger of performative activism. “It’s true that Black people have largely been the leaders in civil rights movements, but that’s not our job,” he told New Jersey Urban News regarding that first point. “We do the work… and then we suffer and we die.” In particular, though, he hopes people walk away considering the damage of performative activism.”

 An example of this he recalled took place two years ago, shortly after George Floyd’s murder. “The mayor of my township said they wanted to have a solidarity march for the police,” he said, recalling that after this march was announced, he wrote the mayor, but the only response was getting a letter back. In the TED Talk, Holmes provides another personal anecdote, recalling the jarring middle school day when he realized how some people around him perceived his Blackness for the first time. After helping his grandfather, a custodian at the school, Holmes took to the basketball court. During play, a white player stopped and shouted to him, “Give me the ball, you Black boy!” The tone and context of the moment made Holmes realize that some people disparaged Black people based on that descriptor.

“(That story) felt like that was the perfect marriage between what is personal and what is emotional,” he said. “My grandfather, like many other Black people, grew up in a time that wasn’t that distant… a time where people weren’t able to read because of segregation.” By highlighting these points and experiences, he hopes those who want to activate positive change can move forward mindfully and help to heal the relatively recent racial wounds still injuring the United States. “If we change the conversation we realize that everyone needs access to a great education, everyone needs access to a job that pays living wages,” Holmes said. “But we still need equity… we need to address the harms that have already been done.”

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