UNO professor sees optimism as a way to mend the racial divide within the country and community


Ashly Willis 

UNO Black Studies department chair, Cynthia Robinson, Ph.D., looks at recent events with optimism of future change.

UNO Black Studies professor Cynthia Robinson, Ph.D., speaks out against the racism seen affecting the Omaha communities in recent weeks by reflecting on parts of history. 

“White supremacy has been around for at least four to five centuries and people’s actions to supremacy have been strong, but to break down those systems is tough,” Robinson said in a recent Zoom interview on Monday.

However, Robinson said she is remaining optimistic in response to what she has seen in recent protests which advocate for change in the Omaha and surrounding communities. 

Robinson said she is encouraged by the global response to the issue of racism but “after a while it just becomes too ridiculous,” as there have been many lives taken due to a person’s race, specifically if they are a person of color. 

Emphasizing this need for change, Robinson wants the Omaha communities to remember. “Without the cameras on each of the televised events many of us wouldn’t see actions of racism taking place,” Robinson said. 

“When I see law enforcement or higher rank individuals, such as the attorney general, reluctant to do anything about the issues of racism most affecting these black communities today. I am reminded that it’s just a part of what I believe to be the position of power,” said Robinson.

Robinson made connections of the recent events that have occurred just within the past month and the events that have happened in history, pointing out that they re-emphasized the reason why people should care.

Historical events include the two Douglas County lynchings of George Smith in 1891 and Will Brown in 1919 – both included rape allegations. Recent events include the death of George Floyd and the proceeding Minneapolis protests spreading to all 50 states; the incident of a 75-year-old-man, later identified as Martin Gugino, who was pushed down by police officers at a protest in Buffalo, New York, the impact cracking his head; and the altercation between Jake Gardner and James Scurlock in the downtown area near Omaha’s Old Market in an effort to prevent any further alleged escalation.

All of these events have made Robinson feel she is in a whole different world. However, she said she still remains hopeful that issues like these have brought some awareness to the Omaha community on how we can better improve our efforts to stop the violence and embrace differences to really become one united people. 

“Issues like these have got to resonate with people” said Robinson, when referring to the incident involving 75-year-old Martin Gugino. “No person should knock others down and just keep walking.”

There are efforts being made across the world and in Omaha as a whole, said Robinson. Specifically in the North Omaha area where Robinson grew up. She applauds their efforts to stand tall and fight the fight – especially during a pandemic where people of color have also been widely affected. 

Robinson said she is reminded of the times where racism has taken her nephew’s life in 2009, her neighbors’ brother who was shot by police for a mistaken identity, or even when her own son, who was 21, was approached by the police in a park simply due to the color of his skin. Robinson said she pleads for changed behavior – so that people of color, of different races and ethnic groups can live a normal life – just like everyone else who lives in the Omaha community and surrounding areas.

Douglas County has had one of the worst reputations when it comes to interactions with police within the black community in the past, said Robinson. But she said she has not lost hope that changes will be made in the near future and any stereotypes we have against each other will soon get better.

This change will only happen if people are willing to put in the work to become well-educated in these types of issues, said Robinson. Only then will we ever get to see the changes that we want.