As you may have already surmised, or have heard people say: “We are living amid the perfect storm”.
We have reached the boiling point in history where science and technology has gifted humanity with a tool that has the ability to capture and expose injustice in concrete and compelling ways. And now more than ever before, we have the capacity to quickly share and disseminate this information around the globe. It took less than a week for the brutal murder of George Floyd to be shared and seen by much of the global community. And rightfully so, the graphic scenes of his death traumatized many of us. It has awakened our collective conscious and moved us into the streets, demanding reform and justice, chanting his last, desperate words: “I can’t breathe”.
Ironically, we took to the streets in the midst of a global pandemic, where a deadly respiratory virus has already stolen the breathe from thousands, killing black and brown people in disproportionate numbers.
The storm has been rolling in for some time now, with each layer of loss and oppression, adding to the heaviness of the air.
“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe”.
As people crowd the streets in protest to police brutality, people are crowding emergency rooms across the globe, gasping in fear and desperation uttering the words: “I can’t breathe”. “I can’t breathe”. Medics and nurses are risking their lives to provide care for those struggling by using aggressive means to open up the airways, even resorting to intubation as a desperate measure to preserve life. It is in these dark times where we have suddenly realized our vulnerability and mortality. The murder of George Floyd amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic seems exceptionally cruel and brutal, piercing the heart that beats within us, causing us to wince in pain and catch our breathe. And he is only one of many in the black community that have been victims of police brutality.
As Covid-19 spreads through black and brown communities causing death and despair, the systemic oppression of minority communities in America has been further exposed. Not to mention that many minorities hold jobs labeled as “essential”, placing them at greater risks of contracting the virus. The economic burden felt from the “safer at home” orders has impacted all of us, but those already struggling with poverty and limited opportunities were hit the hardest.
America was just picking itself off the ground after having had the wind knocked out of us by the Coronavirus, when the death of George Floyd made its way into our collective conscious. Our nation was traumatized by the images of a cop kneeling on the neck of a black man in broad daylight, watching helplessly, as the life drained out of him, as he pleaded for his life. The recent deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have compounded the pain of a nation already grieving the loss of many to the deadly virus, Covid-19.
And it is an election year. The stakes have never been so high. Rhetoric on both sides is frenzied and forceful, each side taking the position that losing the election will lead to the loss of our freedom, core values, and perhaps even, the very identity of our country. The swords have been drawn and there is immense tension and angst among each other as we prepare for “battle”. There is a real and present danger that the election may be compromised whereby the results are contested. The debate over mail-in ballots and their legitimacy is setting the stage for civil unrest. And certain states, like Georgia, have already experienced problematic voting procedures that are creating long lines and suppressing the vote. There is an unsettling uncertainty building where people feel they may have to risk their life and health in order to cast their vote during a time when both coronavirus and the flu are escalating.
The atmospheric pressure is heavy. The emotion seen and felt in the eyes of those wearing make shift masks and bandanas who are protesting in the streets, is palpable. We are weary, and yet many are resolved to “fight”. This moment, albeit fraught with tension and instability, is pregnant with hope and possibility. Perhaps, we are truly witnessing the dawn of a new age. History will remind us that freedom has always come not only with a cost, but with a deep sense of responsibility and commitment. America is faced with the opportunity to reawaken with the resolve to commit itself again to the lofty ideals of equality, justice, freedom, and opportunity for ALL.
I’ve heard from many who feel abandoned and “left out” during this pivotal time. Some insisting the “All Lives Matter” . Many who are unwilling to yield a space in their heart for the reconciliation and restoration for a community of people who have been oppressed by a system that enslaved them years ago. Some have become defensive, doubling down, and declaring that they were never part of the system that harmed black people. That they are “too young” and that “happened so very long ago”. Many more take their logic a few steps further, citing their own disadvantages and struggles. Some are completely unaware of the privilege that their white skin affords. They are so sheltered from the daily reality of those suffering that they invalidate their struggle through gaslighting them, adding yet another insidious layer to the abuses they’ve already endured.
There are people who are incapable of looking past their own experiences in an objective way, examining how their own upbringing and place in society shaped their perceptions and daily reality. Perhaps they examine their life in as so far as acknowledging how their own life was molded by the choices and investment or “lack there of” that their parents executed in their life growing up. Taking it a step further, some may recognize the many other variables that have shaped their identity and values. These often include the interplay between family and society through organized endeavors such as church, school, and recreation. As a white kid, growing up in rural America, I initially saw the cops as the “good guys” and “heroes”. As children, our views are often relatively simplistic. If we are lucky, we are born into a family that invests in our development and is even excited about our potential in the world. One of the questions adults always ask children is: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. We begin instilling an individual’s confidence early on, not only through supporting and fostering their dreams, but also through our own actions and by example. Kids listen, but they learn by absorbing what we do and how we carry ourselves. These seeds planted or sewn early on make up for so much of how we perceive and “judge” the world. The layers upon layers of our perceived reality are reinforced by our own actions and often justify the lens we see the world through. But, it truly is only one lens and one world. One that was constructed by the daily reception of “noise” and clamor that was filtered through our senses and interpreted through a filter of established values and beliefs. Our reality is not collective, it is specific and it is actually extremely limited. We know very little in the end.
I am quick to acknowledge my white privilege and my inadequate knowledge of the various issues that black people face in our country and in the world. In my own struggle with a mental illness and relative poverty, I “tapped out” for over a decade, self-isolating and stagnating. Suffering early on in childhood as a result of being molested by my neighbor at age 4, my sense of safety was diminished. The fact that the world was a dangerous place was further reinforced by later living with a step-father who was abusive and intimidating. Much of my childhood was spent trying to navigate a world where I felt threatened and unsafe. I was often preoccupied with thoughts of impending doom and death and some of my development was arrested as a result.
Not that I am comparing my reality to what black people have endured living in this country. But, I do know how it feels to spend time and energy trying to keep myself “safe”. It takes a lot of energy and time and it can consume and cloud your thought processes. For these reasons, I initially fell behind in school. I was often restless and had difficulty concentrating. Reading, for me, was a real chore. I had boundless and anxious energy and was often “poked fun” of by teachers and even set apart and punished in the classroom openly for having these issues. I always felt different from the others in my class.
I recall a time when I was six where a child got injured on the playground and was bleeding. It terrified me. While all the other kids followed the teacher who had scooped up the child, curious of the injury, I instead ran to the nearby bushes, knelt, and prayed to the dear Lord above to “save him”. I was even so shaken by this, that the next day I stayed home from school, saying I was “sick” with a tummy ache. I would pray every time I heard an ambulance as it paralyzed me with fear and dread. I never felt “safe” or “secure” and I know how this impacted my reality growing up. I have spent time and energy doing my best to heal from a reality that has overshadowed my entire existence. Had I felt safe earlier on, what would have been my true potential? I’ll never know. We only get one life, one reality, and one shot. So many factors, like not feeling safe, can hijack your true potential.
This is why I feel it is so very important to have the conversation our nation and world is having today regarding policing. Based on clear and compelling evidence in both research and anecdotal claims, now supported by a multitude of on-line videos, it is fairly safe to conclude that many people, particularly in black and brown communities do not feel safe. And safety is a basic need, at the bottom of “Maslow’s Hierarchy” pyramid right above the physiological needs of: “air, water, food, shelter, clothing, reproduction”. Maslow defined safety needs in his pyramid as: “personal security, employment, resources, health, and property”. Given the reality that blacks were enslaved and treated in inhumane ways for centuries, one can easily surmise the amount of time needed to address the lack of certain “basic needs”. And even when freedom was granted, there were years of systemic racism prevalent in laws and our culture that made access to their “basic needs” difficult, if not, even impossible for some. I am, embarrassed, to admit that I lack a lot of foundational knowledge of their struggles and am still learning as the history that I was taught in the 80’s as a kid, “glossed” over their struggle… another way to “gaslight” and distort the truth.
This brings me to the point where many white people or members of other minority groups who have struggled in America, ask the question: “Well, What about Me?”. Don’t “ALL lives matter?” I have seen examples of this many times over the past month. Many have suffered in America due to the system falling short to address issues of: income inequality, poverty, lack of access to healthcare, an addiction epidemic, mental health disparities, etc. The list virtually goes on and on. Your struggle is not invalidated or diminished by the movement that, at first glance (for some), seems to have just erupted recently, spilling into the streets, gaining world-wide attention and momentum. The fight against systemic racism has been a long, tumultuous road where many have committed their life and legacy to ending the hate embedded in the structures of American Society. The Black Lives Matter movement represents seven long years of work and protests to bring the issues of racism and police brutality to America’s collective conscious. This took time, dedication, and perseverance.
“In the summer of 2013, after George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the movement began with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The movement was co-founded by three black community organizers: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi”.
The Black Lives Matter Movement should not be seen as a “threat” or a lack of “inclusivity”. The injustices and oppression that systemic racism has caused has traumatized a community of individuals for centuries who have suffered long enough. Those of us struggling due to certain failings of the system should be humbled and inspired by the persistence, tenacity, and grit of those still fighting for equality. This movement has been not only humbling for me, but incredibly empowering and awe-inspiring. Let it sink in that despite centuries of slavery and decades of discrimination that has impacted their ability to feel “safe” and valued in society, that these people never gave up. And not only that, what is even more humbling is that the vast majority are reaching out in love and peace, asking for what they have been denied of for so long. I keep hear them saying: “We are tired. We have had ENOUGH, When will it change?”. I hear their pleas for reform and the desperation in their voices and my eyes begin to well up. It touches a place deep inside of me and my pain too, is also released. I could say, “What about me? What about my struggles?”. But, the larger question is what about “WE?”. It will take more of that mentality to honor their struggle and to reconcile the deep injustices that has, for years, harmed these people. In order to end racism WE have to join in the fight and stand with them in solidarity for a brighter future. Doing so, only empowers and inspires us to continue working to eliminate injustice of all forms. This community has struggled ENOUGH. Their cries have resonated within me and have humbled me, inspiring me to re-examine my approach and perception towards my own struggle. I’ve taken a “back seat”. I’m listening and I am learning. And I am eternally grateful for the immense hope and power that is present in this unprecedented time.
It is time to drop the “ME” and adopt the “WE” mentality. Because together WE struggle, together WE heal, and together WE change the world.