The last few weeks of media coverage, for as tragic as it has been, offer a clear line from thought to action when it comes to the grim reality that Black people have suffered through for far too long in this country. I want to start and end with as much compassion that I can bring to the table.
For all that is going on, COVID-19 and all its byproducts have only escalated tensions. Financial, job, and health insecurities on top of an uncertain future are hard enough to deal with in regular times. Enlisting tens of millions into this stress club in a matter of weeks, on top of one hundred thousand dead and millions mourning, is enough to make a racial problem seem that much more intense. To be clear, even if we did not have a pandemic to deal with, what we are seeing right now is bad.
I know that all white people do not hold malice in their hearts towards all black people. This is not an inditement against whiteness. It is an indictment against the majority power and privilege that in this case is expressed through white culture. To make it about all white people is no more fair than assigning any social problem to the whole of any people. There are people of other ethnic backgrounds that live in what is considered the mainstream. That mainstream is principally informed, for good or bad, by white culture. There are elements and behaviors within that culture that are problematic. Specifically, those who use that position to ignore or mitigate the problems that have existed for too long. Worse still are those who piggyback on popular outrage before going back to the comfort of their day to day lives when the heat dies down. You are the ones I want to speak to the most.
You are the problem that we cannot solve by ourselves.
For any people of color who believe that “white people” are the problem. You are the mirror image of the stereotype you abhor. If you are a white person and you feel you are the problem, seek psychological help. I can't think of anything worse than self-hate and self- loathing.
To the rioters. I understand that there is outrage and clearly something to be outraged about. It has been this way for far too long. Plain and simple it is wrong and unfair. But what will destroying your own community accomplish? How will destroying the livelihoods of hard-working strangers of many different colors and background bring the change we all so desperately need? Especially when so many are struggling through a pandemic. People of color in particular. I know that some of you are just misguided. I also know that some of you are little more than destructive opportunists and this was just the moment you used to express your internal sickness on an already too sick society. Go home. Stay home. Seek help from those who love you enough to not justify the ugliest angels of your nature.
For those who truly care about a more just society of any color or background, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd offer us a chance for a much-needed societal postmortem. They are the bookends of a killing sickness that we are now being forced to deal with. I will try to lay it out for you. I have a hard time believing that you have not heard words like this before. Maybe I will put them together in a way that will shine the light differently. At the end of it all I have one simple request.
Though Ahmaud Aubrey was the first event, he is not where I am going to start. I am going to lay out what I believe is a perfect circle of indignity Black people have been trapped in.
90 Degrees: Central Park Karen
In her attempt to thwart Central Park rules, Amy Cooper threatened Christian Cooper (no relation) with police for trying to protect the birds that he loves. Her words were deliberate and calculated. Her affect on the phone was designed to evoke maximum terror when she spoke to the police. She knew that there a different standard when the words “Black Man” are used. For any who may want to make her an isolated “’crazy white person”, do not for a moment believe that her headset is unique. She is far from the first person to weaponize the police for no good reason.
180 Degrees: Ahmad Aubrey (Part 1)
Travis and George McMichael grabbed their guns and decided they would chase down and detain jogger Ahmaud Arbery for doing what many other people both black and white had done for weeks. Given his sketchy law enforcement training background maybe I should not be surprised by the older McMichael’s ignorance of the rules of a citizen’s arrest. They were sure he was a criminal and they were gonna do something about it. For as horrible as the outcome was, do not for a minute believe that their thinking is unique.
270 Degrees: George Floyd
The police were called to the Cup Convenience Store because of a bad bill being passed by George Floyd. There was some concern about his state of intoxication by the store worker who called 911, but no threat was expressed in any way. For what would usually be a minor infraction (there is no way of knowing if Floyd even knew he had a bad bill and he was a regular customer there as well) the police met Floyd with maximum force. Even after he was cuffed, and other officers has expressed some concern about the way he was being held on the ground; the “police power” thing trumped the “right” thing. The “trained" thing. The legal thing. There are specific rules that govern the use of that kind of restraint. Apparently, all the other officers refused to challenge Derek Chauvin on his criminal tactic. They stood around and watched the life slowly leave a man over a bum twenty-dollar bill.
If you want to make these officers a few bad apples, then clearly you have not been keeping up with the news or YouTube or any number of sources for the last…. ever. I know the vast majority of police are not criminal, but too many good cops turn a blind eye to bad behavior. That only corrupts the whole system.
360 Degrees: Ahmaud Aubrey (Part 2)
In the beginning weeks and months following the Aubrey “murder”, the various District Attorneys’ offices involved tried to make it anything but “murder.”
I have taken this part directly from Wikipedia because I do not believe I could be any more succinct
“The Glynn County Police Department (GCPD) said the Brunswick District Attorney's Office advised them on February 23 to make no arrests, while the Brunswick District Attorney's Office denied that such advice was given to the GCPD by either the Brunswick District Attorney or her Assistant District Attorneys. On February 24, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, who had not yet been assigned to the case, advised the GCPD that no arrests should be made. Barnhill officially took over the case on February 27. Later on, April 2, Barnhill again advised the GCPD to make no arrests, while announcing his intention to recuse from the case due to connections between Gregory McMichael and Barnhill's son. Barnhill requested recusal on April 7. Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden was appointed to the case on April 13.“
The action of not one, but at least two district attorneys’ offices speak to levels of bias and crony protectionism that we are ready to assign to the “racist” south but are all too common everywhere. Again, you do not have to look too hard to find cases that just don’t smell right. Ask The Innocence Project about this.
For those of you who think that I am trying to pull together threads and circumstance that have little or nothing to do with one another, I only hope that one day the level in the well of your compassion rises before irony forces the lesson upon you. Till then, I will be here waiting for you.
So, there you have it. 360 degrees of oppression. A perfect and inescapable circle that people of color live in. We are far from helpless, but we are influenced by a gravity not of our own making.
No matter our dreams. No matter how hard we work. No matter how well we do. We are trapped in the circle. It can come at you from almost any angle. Whether a highly educated birdwatcher. A young man out for a run who also exercises common curiosity or just going to the corner store to get a pack of smokes; there is no escaping the fact that the gravity in your world may crush you at any moment.
It calls into question the most benign of your intentions. It can assign you menace regardless of how much love and care you try to offer. It forces you to walk on eggshells for the sake of not coming off the wrong way. And even then………
And it all starts in the mind. The mind of white culture.
Again, I say, not all of them, but enough of them. Fear has been the principle weapon used to justify centuries of attitudes, actions, and laws here in the home of the brave. A narrative of menace about a people who at no point have ever made up numerical or political majority powerful enough to bring about the apocalypse that lives in your head.
We can’t do anything about it. Trust me, we try. Not all of us all the time, but a lot of us a lot of the time. We barely have a choice. The alternative is littered with separation, anger, frustration, fear, and bitterness. That is far too small and ugly a place to try to get comfortable or raise a family or be your genuine best self. I do not know a person of color who has not found themselves there unexpectedly. I know a few who are trapped there. Even some who have chosen to take up residence there. Maybe one day they will want to leave. On that day, I will be waiting for them.
This place has been brought into being by centuries of not well addressing our primal fear and brutal national history. It has flourished through a culture that had codified bias and willful ignorance. It has been baked into a kind of odd double thinking that promotes race as meaningless and ominous at the same time. “You don’t see color.”, but you do. We have gotten all too comfortable telling half truths about history; thus, turning them into whole lies.
You have gone to sleep in the most comfortable and dangerous of beds: delusion.
It’s time to wake up.
If you are among those who are outraged right now, good. There is plenty to be outraged about. If you are talking to friends of whatever color about it and saying how bad it is and how terrible it is, okay. My only request to you is this. End those conversations with “what are we gonna do about this?” Not as helpless query, but clarion call. Please “do” something. We are depending on your active compassion.
I cannot tell you specifically what to do because I do not know your resources. I do not know what privileges you can bring to bear. I can give you these tips.
Continue to talk but do it purposefully. Share your fear. Talk about the world you want with your children, parents and loved ones.Talk about your shortcomings when it comes to why we still seem so stuck. Then make a plan of action. Do something together. Change does not end with a protest. Only you have the power to make the change that will heal this sickness.
Learn. History is a patient and apt teacher. It will offer its lessons consistently until it becomes convinced that you do not want to learn.Then it will teach you hard. That is the class no one wants to be in. Fifty-three years ago we were in a moment that was like this one. President Lyndon Johnson appointed a commission to find out why Black people are so pissed off. The Kerner Commission Report was arguably the most comprehensive analysis of this country’s social and moral shortcoming ever compiled. It gave solutions and spoke of the altogether terrible path we would stay on if we did not address the problems. Martin Luther King Jr. called it a"physician's warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life." Little was done with it, especially by the administration that commissioned it.
There have been follow-up reports in the decades since (The Millennium Breach and Locked in the Poorhouse). Long story short, they say things are getting worse. Start learning there. It’s a lot of great and unbiased history packed into a few hundred pages. Start a book group and read it together, but mostly, stop focusing on the history you like. History is not there to be liked. It is there to teach you better. Are you brave enough to embrace it? We all know what happens to people who do not learn from history.
Be Brave. Face your fears. Especially of other people. How can you believe in the land of the free when you allow you mind to be ruled by fear of your own country men and women?
Live your belief (Do something). For those on the left who sling outrage at the right who just send “thoughts and prayers” after the latest mass shooting. How is this any different. This slow mass killing has been going on for generations.
Martin Luther King called you out in 1963. Robin DiAngelo indicted you in 2018 and God knows how many in between.
For those folks who are currently blowing up your “woke” friends and your “Black” friends talking about this I am begging you to take that extra step forward into an action. This change must start in your head with an urgency of compassion that will make you confront parts of yourself that are circle breaking powerful. Untapped power is always scary, but without you the circle will remain unbroken.
What we need is a new wave of tenacious compassion. Ferocious love based in wisdom for the sake of lasting change. I’m talking 1st Corinthians 13 love.
This is the hard part. It is not quick. It is not sexy. It does not always tweet or meme well. It asks you, much like love, to give more than you take. It asks you to be a little more afraid for the sake of becoming less afraid. It asks you to see your comfort and privilege as solution and not just the thing that you hide in. They are blessings which are critical to the cure. If you are able to do this, you will find a newfound spirit that will invigorate you. It will move from your head to your heart. I will pump this newfound energy into your limbs, and you will move. Purposefully. Graciously. Fear will dissipate and things will get better... slowly.
For all that I have tried to speak here on the part of the “Race Problem” we have in this country, the same can be said for any group that is caught in the circle of its own indignity.
Poor people, Religious minorities, immigrants, women, Native Americans. I could go on. I hope that your active care will meet them before next time the circle compromises their life or liberty. They are not one drop of God given blood different from you. Not one drop.
They fight as hard as they can most days to live with dignity. They strive to love and care and make it all just a little bit better. But there are unfair, unjust angles that conspire to lock them into a place that they cannot change on their own. They need you. The truest parts of the American dream need you right now.
I know bringing this up may start to sound overwhelming for some of you. It already may feel like too much. I am not asking you to save the world. I am asking you to save yourself by saving me. Just me. I know you do not know me. But I believe there is someone much like me in your life. If not, find me. Reconcile the me in your head with the real me in the world. We may not break the circle; I will feel so much less alone in it. And for that I will love you. And by me, I mean them.
Till you decide to do with and for me, know this simple truth. You all each and every one of you are part of my blessed community. Every one of you.
I will be waiting for you. And by me, I mean me.