It’s been a hard week or so. Or 400 years. Depends when you’re counting from.
Maybe it’s the quarantine — we’ve all been cooped up, longing for connection to each other, to something. Maybe it’s the quick succession of notorious violence against innocent African Americans following Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Aubrey just days apart. But I don’t think that’s the only reason George Floyd’s murder has been a more powerful catalyst than Trevon Martin or Eric Garner or Rodney King or countless others. It’s not just the backstory of a dirty cop who finally killed, following 18 prior complaints on the job, only two of which were elevated to the slap-on-the-wrist level of receiving letters of reprimand.
No, it’s not just that (but also that). It’s the hands in the pockets, the look in the cop’s face not even of anger or vengeance but indifference — a look that says “of course I can do this.” And it’s not just the murderer’s image that haunts me, it’s the face of the innocent man he’s stepping on. The fear in his eyes, the pleading for mercy in his voice — it’s a contrast in humanity and inhumanity. It’s impossible for me to watch and not want to scream “that’s a person you’re killing, you monster!”
It fills me with a sadness the likes of which I can’t recall. And the fact that we’ve collectively spent the last week or so talking about almost nothing else has been terrible…in a way that it needs to be terrible. Injecting the pain for days into our white privileged bubble brains is important and worthwhile. While not ever being able to experience it, I’ve found it moving to at least being forced to think about the low-grade-ever-present-never-leaves-the-back-of-your-mind terror that our black friends and loved ones must feel. And to do so constantly. Sure, you could say that lack of access to healthcare kills way more African Americans (just like everybody else) than the police do. And we should absolutely be talking about how black patients receive worse care than white ones. But cancer doesn’t sneak up on you when you’re out for a jog and take your life away. There’s something about the capricious violence, one seemingly impossible to inoculate oneself against, that’s reminiscent of the worst societies in history — Apartheid, the Third Reich, Stalinism.
But that’s our society too, woven into the fabric of it like the threads and verses of banner. I used to think that racism was the exception, rather than the rule, of the American story. Slavery and the Trail of Tears and Japanese internment camps were anomalies, brief lapses in judgement along an otherwise righteous journey towards a more perfect union. But it’s not just an unfortunate chapter or twenty, it’s our original sin — we stole this land and the bodies who worked it. We’ve never reckoned with that sin, and we must. I wish I knew how.
While I obviously don’t, I’m committed to working on it, on myself and how we raise our children. It’s time for less talking (“sure, after 500+ words,” you say — fair), for more listening, more learning and unlearning (I’m not the first to use that phrase, but I’ve found it’s the hardest part.) We owe it to our friends and loved ones who don’t yet feel fully welcomed in their homeland, for the America that has never been yet — and yet must be.