America Is Already Different Than It Was Two Weeks Ago

The flurry of recent changes demonstrates how quickly they can be made when those in power have the will to make them.

Jeff Roberson / AP; Shutterstock; Paul Spella / The Atlantic

A lot has changed these past couple of weeks. As protesters have gathered following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in late May, the Black Lives Matter movement has rapidly gained public support. Seizing or at least reading the moment, politicians, companies, and organizations have announced a flurry of new policies and revised positions intended to address structural racism. Those changes are, to varying degrees, set to alter the topography of American society, including police presence in many communities and the offerings on TV and retail shelves.

Why now? The latest protests certainly have played a role in bringing about these developments, but “in actuality,” Saje Mathieu, a history professor at the University of Minnesota, told me, “the changes that we are seeing—or at the least, the promises of change that we are hearing—stem from years, if not decades, of various forms of protests by a fleet of people who have been pointing out the major fissures in American society.”

Two weeks, of course, is not enough time to dismantle power structures that have been constructed over centuries. “I am encouraged by some of the changes we have seen in recent weeks,” said Keisha Blain, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh, “but I think we have a very long way to go.”

Though it remains to be seen whether these changes will be catalytic or merely cosmetic in fighting institutional racism and police violence, the swiftness of their accumulation has been remarkable—and demonstrates how quickly changes can be made when those in power have the will to make them. I’ve presented below a selection of notable policy shifts planned, resignations tendered, and pledges made in the past couple of weeks, in the hopes that seeing them together will help us take stock of how the world has already changed—and imagine what other features of society may follow.

“I am not yet sure if what I’m seeing is courage or opportunism” on the part of people in power, Mathieu said, referring to the possibility that the authors of recent changes are simply seeking good publicity. “Either way, it’s a start.”

  • The city council of Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, has vowed to disband the city’s police department.
  • The mayors of New York and Los Angeles—America’s two biggest cities by population—announced plans to cut funding for their police forces.
  • Various cities are set to ban choke holds by police, make all local police shootings subject to review by independent agencies, or reduce police presence at schools.
  • Whether because of their response to the protests, criticism of their record on racial equity, or both, leaders have resigned from positions running CrossFit, the Poetry Foundation, the city of Temecula, California, the co-working company The Wing, the publication Refinery29, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • The editor in chief of Bon Appétit resigned after an image of him dressed in a racially insensitive Halloween costume resurfaced, and amid criticism of the publication’s treatment of employees and writers of color; the head of video for Condé Nast, which owns Bon Appétit, resigned shortly thereafter.
  • Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit, gave up his seat on the company’s board of directors and requested that his replacement be black; the company honored his request, appointing Michael Seibel, the CEO of the start-up-investment firm Y Combinator.
  • For the first time, Harper’s Bazaar hired a woman of color—Samira Nasr—as its editor in chief.
  • Ella Jones was elected mayor of Ferguson, Missouri; she will be the first black mayor and the first female mayor of the city, which was incorporated in 1894.
  • LeBron James and several other athletes and entertainers are forming an advocacy group that will encourage African Americans to vote in the 2020 presidential election, as well as work to protect their voting rights.
  • The commissioner of the National Football League apologized for ignoring the complaints of African American players for years, and said he recognizes their right to protest peacefully, as Colin Kaepernick had by kneeling while the national anthem was played before games.
  • NASCAR plans to ban displays of the Confederate flag at its races. U.S. Soccer, the organization overseeing the country’s national soccer teams, repealed a rule that banned players from kneeling during the national anthem.
  • IBM ended research into and sales of its facial-recognition software, citing concerns about racial profiling when the software is used in the context of law enforcement; Amazon suspended the use of its facial-recognition systems by police departments for a year, which it said “might give Congress enough time to put in place appropriate rules” regulating the technology’s use; Microsoft pledged not to sell facial-recognition software to police departments until such rules are established.
  • Monuments honoring Confederate leaders have been or will be removed in Asheville, North Carolina; Birmingham, Alabama; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Mobile, Alabama; Alexandria, Virginia; and Louisville, Kentucky. (The governor of Virginia also announced plans to remove a large Confederate statue in the capital city of Richmond, but the plan now faces legal challenges.)
  • The city of Philadelphia removed a statue of Frank Rizzo, a former mayor and police commissioner who in the 1970s implored residents to “vote white”; the city of Antwerp, Belgium, removed a statue of King Leopold II, a monarch responsible for countless atrocities in Congo more than a century ago.
  • The U.S. Marine Corps banned displays of the Confederate flag on its installations.
  • The Senate’s Armed Services Committee voted to include a measure in a defense-authorization bill requiring that military bases named for Confederate leaders be renamed.
  • State lawmakers in Mississippi started drafting a resolution to change the state flag, which contains the Confederate flag in its upper-left corner.
  • Walmart said it will stop keeping beauty products marketed to African American customers in locked glass cases; the cosmetics retailer Sephora said it will start dedicating 15 percent of its inventory to products made by black-owned businesses.
  • HBO removed Gone With the Wind from its streaming service and said it plans to eventually present the movie “with a discussion of its historical context” and a denunciation of its portrayals of race.
  • The Paramount Network canceled the TV show Cops, which presented a flattened moral universe in which the cops (many of them white) were good and the people they confronted (many of them black) were bad.
  • The newspaper publisher Gannett has stopped publishing mug shots unrelated to specific stories on its websites, noting that these images “may feed into negative stereotypes.”
  • Merriam-Webster said that it is revising its dictionary’s definition of the word racism to more fully account for the structural sense in which the word can be used. It is doing so after Kennedy Mitchum, a 22-year-old black woman, wrote to the dictionary’s editors arguing for the change.

Kaila Philo contributed reporting to this article.