Like for many people, my emotions have been a roller-coaster over the last few weeks.
I’ve been outraged by the disproportionate number of black Americans dying from covid-19. I’ve been outraged by the murder of George Floyd. I’ve been outraged by people like my own dentist who said, “They shouldn’t go around destroying businesses just because a cop made a mistake.” I’ve been outraged by the callousness and ignorance so deeply embedded in American society.
I’ve been mournful over centuries of suffering and death in the black community.
I’ve been embarrassed by my white privilege, by my blindness and deafness to the constant hardship faced by my black friends. I’ve been embarrassed by so-called friends who’ve remained silent as prejudice and injustice have raged on.
I’ve been hopeless, fearing no end to the hate and indifference to it.
I’ve struggled to find empowerment and keep faith for better days ahead.
I’ve spent a lot of time crying and hurting over the last couple weeks. I’ve been shocked that my friends have had to ask why. So many people are indifferent to that which doesn’t affect them. It’s hard for me to empathize with their lack of empathy. Can I blame them for their oblivion? Can I blame them for their ignorance? It’s hard not to be resentful. I fight to remember that apathy is just a conditioned behavior. And I tell myself that just because it is conditioned does not mean it is part of the human condition.
What’s more, I’ve been struggling to find my role in this movement. I want to effectuate change. I want to change people. On one hand, I know that can’t force it. Yet, I can be a catalyst for it.
The fact is that people like being comfortable and this is one reason why inequality is perpetuated. Privilege is the 21st century term for “comfort zone”. The interesting thing is that a comfort zone can be expanded. One simply needs to step out of it. Of course, there’ll be discomfort but, after it’s confronted, there’ll be more space, more freedom.
The first step towards change is awareness. I can’t force someone to be aware but I can lead by example. I can let people witness my awareness.
As a white woman from an upper-middle class family, I’m privileged. I’ve had a lot of recent reminders. Three weeks ago, I was on a run when I passed a young, tall black man, carrying coffee on the side of the road. He seemed to live nearby but I’d never seen him before. I remembered two black families who lived down the road. Perhaps the young man was a visitor. I realized that it was the first time I’d ever seen a black person walking in my neighborhood. Days after George Floyd’s death, I started to understand why: privilege. I get to go running in my neighborhood without fear of being harassed or attacked.
I’ve had countless other realizations like this over the last few weeks. I’m privileged in almost every aspect of my life and I refuse to let my privilege be my blindness.
Likely as a result of privilege, my very thinking is biased. I’d made the assumption that that black man must’ve been visiting another black family. I’m glad that my mom called me out on that. I want to be called out on my prejudice because that’s how I’m going to become better. Call me out. Please.
While change starts with awareness, everyone lives on different timelines. Am I supposed to reconcile with the fact that some people will need time to undergo this process? There should never be a hold placed on justice and equality. As a society, we’ve been given enough time. I refer to words by James Baldwin:
What is it you want me to reconcile myself to? I was born here almost sixty years ago. I’m not going to live another sixty years. You always told me it takes time. It has taken my father’s time, my mother’s time. My uncle’s time. My brother’s and sister’s time. My niece’s and my nephew’s time. How much time do you want for your… ‘progress’?James Baldwin
This week, a huge thank you goes out to the NAACP’s Youth and College Division. On Tuesday, I attended the first class for Black Civics Summer: The Sh*t You Should’ve Learned in School. The title was “Black People vs The Police” and I’m thankful for resources and tools to become a more informed and responsible citizen and person.
Frankly, the title of the summer course says it all. There’s a lot I should’ve learned in school. Case in point… A few years ago, I was invited to an exhibition opening at the California African American Museum (CAAM). When I stepped in the building, I had two realizations: First, I couldn’t name a single African American artist, despite having taken advanced art courses in high school. Second, there was a lot of history I’d never learned in school, which was made clear as I stepped into an exhibition called: No Justice, No Peace: LA 1992. I’d never even heard of the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising.
Here are some resources I’ve found extraordinarily informative and helpful over the last few weeks:
NAACP Youth and College Division: Black Civics Summer: The Sh*t You Should’ve Learned in School is first-come-first-serve, every Tuesday evening until July 7th. Click the link to register. This is a chance not just to absorb information but to engage and learn how to apply it.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper is a must-see.
An interview with Kimberly Jones called How Can We Win was featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. She refers to the “social contract” that Trevor Noah discusses in his video. She said so much that shook me. I hope this message continues to shake the world until we’re all woke.
Ten Percent Happier Podcast with Dan Harris: #253 An Uncomfortable (But Meaningful) Conversation About Race | Lama Rod Owens helped me understand how to have those necessary conversations about race, especially with members of the black community.
The Daily Podcast from The New York Times: The Case for Defunding the Police and other episodes from The Daily report on racial injustice and inequality and discuss the options being put on the table.
Throughline Podcast from NPR: American Police gives some background that is key to understanding the past and present relationship between the black community and the police.