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Since its inception, the United States has harbored deep roots of structural racism: from its public healthcare system to its police departments, racial injustice permeates every facet of the nation’s social fabric. As Americans of color are disproportionately struggling with the devastating effects of COVID-19 and police brutality, the nation has entered into a moment of reckoning on systemic racism. Recent nationwide protests mark a collective stand for parity, and dignity, for Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives.
In the following collection of Humanities Moments, contributors reflect on the long, and often overlooked, history of racial inequality with an eye towards how the humanities can help overcome past injustices. Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest active park ranger, contemplates how the arts offer a path towards empathy and, ultimately, healing from the nation’s legacy of racial segregation. The historian Julia Nguyen discusses the power dynamics embedded in commemorative statues, exploring how these memorials shape the narrative arc of history. Finally, filmmaker and storyteller Ken Burns situates his own story within the nation’s tumultuous history of race relations.