Close your eyes for a moment and clear your mind. Imagine for a moment that your son or brother or father was shot 7 times in the back by a police officer. Imagine that the police officers that shot your loved one have not been arrested and that the media is using the fact that he may have had a knife in his car as justification for the shooting. Sit with those feelings for a minute. Now imagine your father threw a plastic bag at a 17-year old kid illegally flaunting an assault-style rifle and was then murdered by that same kid. Only minutes before the boy, who killed your loved one, is seen talking to police officers and they do nothing to disarm him. Later you read people are calling him a hero for protecting his community and show photos of him cleaning up graffiti. How do you feel? Devastation? Rage? What would you do? Would you riot? Burn the place down? I for one, would want to burn it to the ground and myself with it.
Now picture yourself as the hard-working business owners watching their businesses being looted and burning in flames? How do you feel now? I am livid and frustrated. But who am I angry with? The rioters and the looters or the catalyst of injustice that triggered them?
The other day, my daughter and I were watching television together. We listened to a young person speak about all the horrible things that have occurred in 2020 and how despite them their faith was renewed. I admire the bravery it took for them to share their story. However, it struck me that in the long litany of bad things that are occurring in our world today, the speaker mentioned rioting and looting twice, but didn’t mention the systemic racism or police brutality that caused this civil unrest. Six months to a year ago, I probably wouldn’t have noticed this omission and if I had, I most likely would have let it go. Later, I pointed out the omission to my daughter and how I felt omitting the cause of the looting and rioting perpetuated racist ideas. My daughter immediately went on the defensive. “That’s not what they meant, mom!” She was angry with me for pointing this out to her. In her mind, I am wrong as good people can’t be racist. She felt uncomfortable. Let me be clear in that I do not think the speaker was intentionally promoting racist ideas. Yet, I would be remiss if I hadn’t pointed it out to my daughter in the hopes that she and I both would become more aware of underlying ideas and policies that keep systemic racism in place today. We must feel uncomfortable to move forward.
When we focus our attention on the looting and rioting that sometime erupts from protests of injustice, we fail to see the actual problem. By calling for “law and order”, arresting protesters, sending in armed troops to squelch civil unrest, dismissing “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter” or even worse “Blue Lives Matter” we’re only pulling off the leaves of the weeds, leaving the roots intact to grow back. When we complain that protesters aren’t wearing masks and social distancing to prevent COVID-19 spread and use it as a justification to attend parties, vote in person we are selfish and dismiss the inequities and injustices in our communities because they don’t effect us directly. We fail to treat the infectious disease that permeates our culture (whether we want to recognize it our not) that is systemic racism and continue to treat the symptoms (stopping looters and rioters). We won’t be free of riots and looting until the injustices that trigger social unrest are remedied.
The remedy begins with having uncomfortable conversations within your families and peer groups. It means examining your own biases and allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable (not guilty) and begin to open your own eyes to the injustices that happen every day even when they don’t happen to us. Just this morning, I read an article in the BG Independent News about how some white people are impatient with the equity movement and want people of color to “just get over it” and move on with their lives. In the article, Ana Brown, the director or Multicultural Affairs at Bowling Green State University was quoted as saying, “When we look through our privileged lenses, we see how far we have come. When we look through our marginalized lenses, we see how far we have to go.”
We must look through the marginalized lens more and make ourselves live in someone else’s reality in order to truly make our communities stronger and better. Have you ever wondered what you would have done had you lived during slavery, the Jim Crow era or the Holocaust? Would you have helped a run away slave find refuge? Would you have hidden your Jewish neighbors in your attic? Would you have marched with Rosa Parks? Would you have spoke out against lynchings? I know I have wondered about my response and hoped I would have been brave enough to answer yes to all of the above. I recently saw a a meme that read something like “if you’ve ever wondered what you’d do during slavery, the holocaust or civil rights movement, ask yourself what are you doing now? You have your answer.”
When my future grandchildren asked me what I did during the civil unrest of 2020, I want to be proud of my answer. So, I will keep having uncomfortable conversations, educating myself, signing petitions, writing about injustice, peacefully protesting and supporting/voting for candidates that promote anti-racist policies.