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  • Writer's pictureOscar Holmes IV

Police Brutality and the Less Conspicuous Ways Racism Kills

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

The phrase “I can’t breathe” has left an indelible mark on our culture due to the tragic murders of George Floyd and Eric Garner at the hands of the police. As I have written in my EDI article, anti-Black police brutality is a horrific form of racism that Black people endure. Although police killings and physical violence are most associated with police brutality, police brutality also includes emotional and sexual violence, verbal assaults, psychological intimidation, and other forms of police misconduct. It is no surprise that police brutality is harmful to the health and well-being of Black people. However, there are less conspicuous ways that racism kills Black people. It is important for people to know these ways because it highlights the role that each of us play in perpetuating or eliminating racism in our society. Yes, we can easily identify the racism of police brutality as bad, but we must also identify the less conspicuous forms of racism as bad because they also have pernicious outcomes on Black people’s health and well-being. In my EDI article, I share four less conspicuous ways racism kills Black people through: 1) the perennial expectation that Black people cater to other people's needs and desires; (2) performative activism and allyship; (3) assigning Black people the responsibility for fixing racism and (4) thinking education, mentoring or wealth is the panacea for racism.

With respect to the perennial expectation that Black people cater to other people’s needs and desires, this often surfaces when something bad happens, and Black people are expected to forgive the offense or the offender. For example, when a White man walked into a South Carolina AME church during a Bible study meeting and later murdered the nine Black church parishioners, the family of the victims gave interviews where they spoke about forgiving the terrorist. At the heart of this behavior is that no matter how much pain, loss, depravity, or racism Black people experience, we are expected to suppress our true emotions and impulses and attend to others’ needs and desires. This is such a familiar script because America demands us to forgive and forget, so it can move on with business as usual.

It seems that performative activism and allyship is omnipresent these days. Typically, you can tell if something is performative if there’s some constellation of these three factors: 1: if there’s an absence of a legitimate track record from the person or organization, 2: if there’s a mismatch between behavior and activism goals, and 3: if there is a presence of self-interested gains. Performative activism and allyship is harmful because it diverts attention and resources away from legitimate people, causes, and organizations who are doing the real work of racial justice and it maintains the status quo or worse exacerbates the oppression that vulnerable communities are already experiencing.

It is no secret that Black people have been at the forefront of advancing and securing civil rights for numerous communities in the United States. However, far too often, Black people are expected to fix all of the ills of racism either by changing themselves or by working to create, lead, develop, or maintain DEI solutions, programs, and initiatives. However, expecting Black people to do this work for everyone else contributes to the negative health outcomes we experience.

Undoubtedly, receiving a quality education, effective mentoring, and having opportunities to generate wealth are beneficial services and resources. However, these are not a panacea for racism. No amount of individualized (or collective) achievement will eliminate racism. This can only be accomplished through intentional anti-racist work.

Although it is easy to see how anti-Black police brutality kills Black people, less conspicuous ways that racism kills Black people are often overlooked. For those who want to be part of the solution, I encourage you to check out my TEDx Talk of the same title to learn more about these less conspicuous ways and what you can do differently to make our society more equitable and just.


Holmes IV, O. (2020). Police brutality and four other ways racism kills Black people. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 39(7), 803–809.

Holmes IV, O. (2022, February 5). Police Brutality and the Less Conspicuous Ways Racism Kills. TEDxRutgersCamden.

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