Last week my mind was on the fact that we needed to come together as a nation to combat a shared threat – the deadly COVID-19 virus. In my last blog post I pointed out that within this crisis we had an opportunity to foster real change. I said we had the chance to take these difficult circumstances and learn from them to make our world — our nation — a better place. I argued that toxic individualism was ruinous and that we desperately needed to move away from it.
All the while another, greater virus was roiling and churning and rearing it’s old, ugly head. It’s a virus that our nation has lived with and learned to falsely inoculate itself to for 400 years. Racism is a deadly, cancerous threat to the health and well being of our society and for far too long, too many of us have underplayed the enormity of it because far too many of us are immune to its lethal venom. But racism is a shared virus — those who are not directly affected by it knowingly or unknowingly (purposefully or indirectly) spread it to those most vulnerable to the symptoms of it, and are therefore infected by it in a different way. We’ve been working toward solutions that combat racism and bigotry for years but we have been kidding ourselves about how much progress we have been making. We have not really been part of the solution. By hiding behind the “progress” we believe we have made, we have become part of the problem. And by “we” I mostly mean White America.
I am an upper middle class white woman who has enjoyed all the opportunities and privileges that my race and socioeconomic standing has provided me with. These are not opportunities or privileges that I have earned in any way — I was just born with them. I could have just as easily been born into any other situation, could have been any other race, could have had any other life. But I wasn’t and I don’t. I was born white and simply because of that, my life is easier than others who weren’t. I have always recognized this as being unfair, and I am very conscious of it, but I have not done nearly enough to combat the absolute wrongness of it.
Now as our nation reels from yet another string of racially motivated murders during a time when our country is even more vulnerable to hate crimes and oppression because we’ve got a president who is seemingly hell bent on reversing every single gain and foothold we’ve made in our attempt to combat systemic and societal inequality, it’s clear that we are in desperate need of change. We need a movement. We need an uprising. And it needs to start with each and every one of us who have this unearned privilege. We need to take a hard look at our actions (or inactions), our thoughts, and our approach to life and ask ourselves what we can do to help other races rise and then we need to make that happen. We cannot just shake our heads and cast our eyes down when we witness oppression, racially motivated brutality or inequity of any kind, in any format. We must forcefully and loudly denounce it.
People born into “whiteness” can change the narrative and raise up those who weren’t born into “whiteness” so that “whiteness” does not continue to be the driver of opportunity and privilege.
I am fully committed to fighting this injustice by better educating myself about the history of racism and discrimination in America and arming myself with the knowledge I need to help combat it. I’m also committed to sharing that knowledge and ingraining it in my children. I’ve started to collect a list of references and reading material that I think will help inform and enlighten. And if you have some to share, please do!
The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and the Amy Cooper/Chris Cooper incident in Central Park are just the most recent injustices in a very long line of indecencies that prove that Black people in America have an enormous and unfair burden of having to prove their humanity. Over and over again, Black Americans bear the brunt of the workload for building a just and equitable society. They suffer the consequences of our failure to effectively combat oppression and bigotry and hate. These are not just names in the news. These are not just “situations”. These are people who have loved ones, they have hopes and dreams and triumphs and heartbreak. They are unique from each other. They have their own stories. But they are every story of racism in today’s America.
The color of your skin should not define you… it should be a big part of who you are and it should make up a big part of your story, but it should not predetermine your fate. It should not get you killed.
I fear that in the past we have been too focused on structural change in an effort to address our societal injustices. We cannot continue to think that progress means fixing our system to make it more equitable. We need to recognize that we have to first and foremost address the underlying problem that is causing our system to fail. And that problem is an implicit bias toward and uneasiness of “otherness”.
I think by removing the negativity and breaking down the biases around “otherness” we can start to move toward real progress, real change. I’m committed to continuing to make sure my kids live with a deep appreciation for the fact that the thing that most makes the world such a beautiful, interesting place is the diversity of the people that inhabit it. I do not want them (or anyone) to live life “color-blind”. I want all of us to live life in vibrant rainbow technicolor, celebrating the unique beauty that each and every person brings to our world because of their culture, their traditions, their history. Every race and every ethnicity has unique subculture of art, of music, of stories, and food, and celebrations and rituals, and heroes and monuments and mores and beliefs and if we could just embrace them and use them to enrich our own lives and experiences, we can start to become the great and wonderful “melting pot” that America is supposed to be. If variety is the spice of life, why are so many afraid of it? Why is it so threatening?
I also think we need to be more vocal in our objection to oppression and racist behavior and thought. I vow to stand up in my personal and professional life when I witness a micro-aggression, see discriminatory behavior, hear a racist comment or read a disparaging post or “opinion” on social media,or anywhere. I promise to have those difficult conversations. I am, by nature, “non-confrontational” and I’ve used that as an excuse in the past to not speak up in situations where I should have. I’m not proud of that and I am vowing to myself to change that. Because it matters. It really does. I know it is not enough to disagree with someone’s racist remark, or to not laugh at someone’s disparaging jokes, or to delete a chain email containing xenophobic rhetoric. It is not enough to re-tweet an inspirational message from a human rights activist, it is not enough to hashtag and post about equality and that black lives matter. I know I have to raise my voice and make it clear — very clear — that racism has no place in my life, in this world.
This is an enormous problem. We are deeply broken. We have so much to do. The things I mention above are just the tip of the iceberg, just a few of the things I feel I can do in this moment. They certainly aren’t even close to everything. We are not going to accomplish a fundamental transformation overnight. But, we aren’t going to accomplish anything at all if we don’t start somewhere. We have to start somewhere. This is where we start. And we have to start now. We have to start creating a world where Black people, Indigenous people, People of Color and White people — ALL people (gay, straight, bi, trans) not only live in equity, but celebrate each others differences and the unique beauty they bring to the world in equal measure. The wheels of justice, compassion, understanding and acceptance, groaning under effort to turn for so long, now need to be well oiled and put into motion, if not at warp speed, then at least at a strong, steady pace.
We are facing a crisis in the middle of a crisis. We’ve got a whole lot of crisis going on. But that means we also have a whole lot of opportunity too. Remember in my last post when I said that the Chinese word for crisis was derived from two western words — danger, and opportunity — and that if we didn’t take this opportunity to change things in the midst of this crisis then we were in grave danger? Well, I still mean it. I just mean it even more.
Oh.. and I’ll leave you with this. I’ve loved the song For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield ever since I was obsessed with this movie called Where the Day Takes You back in the 90’s. I probably watched it 17 times or more (way more) so every time I hear that song — which was the theme song — I naturally think of that movie. I won’t waste time here telling you what it’s about but if you haven’t seen it, you should (and you’re probably still quarantining in some capacity, so you know you have the time)… but anyway, even though it was written in 1967, that song was the backdrop for this 1992 movie because it was still relevant and it’s been bouncing around in my head all week because it suddenly feels like 1967 (not that I was alive then, but you know what I mean). And also it’s still relevant.
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
Everybody look what’s going down
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
Everybody look what’s going down
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
Everybody look what’s going down
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Oh Suzanne. Thank you for these powerful words.