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Billie Hansen-Dupree: My Backpack

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African Americans like Billie Hansen-Dupree must carry a backpack. It’s full of racism and it’s very heavy.

I get exhausted from being Black. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to be anything other than Black, but sometimes being Black is like wearing a backpack of racism that keeps getting heavier — the video of a policeman with his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery.

My backpack got so heavy that I couldn’t stand. I sat. And watched. People protested, rioted, looted. And I saw people more outraged by the looting than by the racism that fueled the looting. I don’t condone looting, but none of this would have happened if the collective backpacks of racism hadn’t gotten so heavy, that people took them off and used them as weapons.

My morning walk always lights my day. But this time it didn’t. Windows were broken in all the stores in Foothill Square. I skirted glass that glittered on the pavement and tears filled my eyes. That racism had boiled over into this. My backpack felt heavier. I saw a sign that I had seen before, “San Leandro Stands United Against Hate,” and I wondered, does it really? Will the property damage change the rhetoric? How do they feel now?

These past few weeks have shined a light on racism in America, but it’s just a flashlight. Mostly on the justice system. When I drive down East 14th Street, I see vestiges of racism: check cashing places instead of banks, liquor stores instead of supermarkets, homeless encampments.


My backpack holds outrage and sorrow. Outrage that the cries of systemic racism have been ignored for so long. Sorrow for families who wait for children who never return or worry that their child might be next.

I see people protesting all over the world. My backpack feels a little lighter. As Rev. Al Sharpton said in his eulogy for George Floyd: “This feels different.”

And I hope it is.

With a Perspective, I’m Billie Hansen-Dupree.

Billie Hansen-Dupree is a retired elementary school teacher and literacy advocate.

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