VCU professor weighs in on how protests impact social change

People are experiencing a heightened cultural and social awareness following the recent unrest across the country and in the commonwealth. The recent protests and riots are forcing many to reflect on our past, present and future.

A new decade is bringing a new enlightenment for the City of Richmond and the rest of the country.

“I’ve seen a new interest, a new consciousness about what’s going on particularly as it concerns the quality of life for black folks,” said Shawn Utsey, who is the chair of the department of African American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Utsey has worked for VCU for 15 years. He also teaches psychology.

“I’m happy to see Richmond really engaged. Historically there’s always been a lapse or a disconnect between what’s going on nationally and what we see here in Richmond,” said Utsey.

The U.S government, along with multi-million dollar corporations are starting to implement racial changes. Virginia’s citizens are making their voices heard by removing statues in the city one by one.

Governor Ralph Northam said he will propose legislation to make Juneteenth, a celebration on June 19 commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S., an official state holiday. Northam announced this Tuesday alongside Grammy-award winner Pharrell Williams.

In the sports world, the NFL pledged $250 million to combat systematic racism while also encouraging player to peacefully protest. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that the league was wrong for not listening to the players earlier.

Quaker Oats announced a plan to remove the name and image of the Aunt Jemima brand of Syrup and pancake mix due to racial stereotypes.

Professor Utsey attributes the shift in awareness to Americans feeling traumatized by the killing of unarmed African Americans like George Floyd. He believes that many Americans feel distressed and overwhelmed.

“We watched as a country, his life leave his body,” said Utsey.

Utsey also believes that the coronavirus pandemic has led Americans to have more time on their hands.

“I think people aren’t able to distract themselves with work, pleasure activities, with vacations, with shopping,” said Utsey. “I think what’s happening recently are a bunch of events and I don’t know if it’s enough information to extrapolate to lasting change.”

Utsey believes that many of these new changes are merely symbolic. He believes that more resources should be distributed to healthcare, targeted advertising and housing disparities in order for meaningful change.

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