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A personal message from one of our staff:
A deadly pathogen is running rampant through the world, undetectable and unstoppable, middle class families are waiting in mile long lines at food banks, and those who were already a paycheck away from disaster are now homeless. The political divide is deeper than ever, no longer about differences in policy, it is now an appraisal of morality. Wearing a mask has become a partisan statement, with both sides shaming and accusing each other of ignorance.
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in close succession have shocked those who had come to accept racial bias as an unpleasant truth to be denounced, yet tolerated. The long simmering resentment of African Americans has passed the boiling point, and we are witnessing a revolt against a society that has oppressed and stigmatized their race for centuries, the type of which has not been seen since Dr Martin Luther King lit a fire for equality more than 50 years ago.
Then there are those who used to lurk in the shadows and hide under hoods, who have become emboldened to voice their hatred and hostility towards people of color over the last three years. For them, the stakes are now higher than ever; they are desperate to cling to their vision of a whiter America peering over the horizon.
All are clamoring to be heard, and the resulting cacophony of rage threatens to dissolve America. To say these are frightening times would be a ludicrous understatement. Growing up, political discourse was something I rarely witnessed. I was raised in a religion that preached neutrality, and it was considered futile to attempt to influence societal issues that could only be solved by a higher power. An independent streak and a passion against injustice brought me into frequent conflict with my family and religious leaders, but I struggled to reconcile those principles with my conscience. I saw neutrality as pacifism, and pacifism was complicity.
In 1992, as the Rodney King riots shook Los Angeles, I graduated from high school. I remember watching the riots on television and not really grasping what they were about. It was undeniable that the police had brutally and unnecessarily beaten a man, but I failed to recognize that the rage over that was fueled by a systemic problem. I lived in an all white community in the mid-west, and while I was aware racism was still prevalent, I rarely witnessed it and certainly had no concept of how it permeated the everyday existence of people of color.
I was raised to accept people of all races and nationalities, and have never felt hatred for another race, yet still, unconscious racial and class bias was cultivated in me. My relationships were filtered through the lens of how much their lives mirrored mine. I felt compassion for the less fortunate, yet my efforts to help them revolved around making them more like me. I subconsciously divided the “good blacks” from “bad blacks”- usually based only on their speech and style of clothing. I held strong opinions on homosexuality and abortion, and consideration of other viewpoints or contemplating different reasoning was not allowed by my religion. Effort was made to reduce exposure to outside influences that might contradict those beliefs, so education beyond high school was strongly discouraged. My mind remained closed because my world was.
A complicated series of events, too lengthy to detail here, slowly unraveled my faith, and I eventually discarded my religious beliefs. The consequences of that decision were personally devastating, causing me to spiral into a deep and unrelenting depression, and I sought counseling as a means to cope with my grief, disillusionment and fear. However, with the loss of what was familiar and comfortable came the gift of freedom of thought, and I embraced the opportunity to re-learn what I believed. I sought to educate myself on issues that I had been ignorant of, I listened to others’ opinions with an open mind, and I worked to envision myself in the difficult situations that others faced, so that I could develop empathy. I became aware of the judgmental lens I had unconsciously filtered others through, and began to engage with those who I would have previously avoided. I saw beyond their clothes, mannerisms and diction to the person inside, and discovered that where once I saw vast differences, now I saw sameness.
There is a video currently circulating on social media that has sparked furious controversy. In it, a young, black woman named Candace Owens expresses her disgust for the seeming martyrdom of George Floyd, due to his violent criminal past. While she condemns the actions of the officers, some of what she said seems to enforce the entrenched belief that black men being shot in some way have it coming. I was infuriated by many of her comments, but I forced myself to listen to her, and to try to understand her point of view, some of which was not without merit. She emphasized that George Floyd had not lived an honorable life- he had hurt and traumatized individuals for life. She reasoned that the victims of his crimes surely are angered and hurt that he is suddenly being treated as a hero.
I considered at length how despite her facts being accurate, millions of people were not only angered by his death, but truly grieved, even driven to tears, as I was. Why are we mourning George Floyd? It is because when we watched him die, when we listened to him gasp for air, when he cried out for his mother- for those 8 minutes and 46 seconds, we didn’t see a black man, and we didn’t see a criminal- we saw a human. People worldwide had seen past their filter and saw their human brother suffering, and it hurt. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, we were not white or black or or any race other than the human one. That brief glimpse was enough to shock many people awake, and opened their eyes to how fellow humans are being treated. The reality of what it means to be black in America has finally resonated and made us painfully aware and ashamed of our white privilege. It is apparent that this can no longer be treated as a “black problem”- it is a human problem.
These are unprecedented and turbulent times, but also, the beginning of a new era. Just as my life changed when my unconscious prejudices were torn away, the entire country is experiencing the same. It is not enough to just not be a racist- because silence is complicity. It is no longer enough to portion shares of equality to those we feel have earned it, it has to be granted upon birth. What we are witnessing is an entire nation recognizing and acknowledging their mistakes, and actively taking measures to change. Emotions are high, and conflicting, but we have the choice to continue stripping away our ignorance and educate ourselves, with an open mind, without bias. We can stop focusing on our differences and work to see sameness. We can look at the destruction of what was familiar and comfortable with fear, or we can see it as an opportunity to start over and to re-make our country into something better. Right now, we can choose to be scared, or we can choose to be strong.
I did not write the following, but it says what I am feeling in my heart: (see below)
“WHAT IF 2020 ISN’T CANCELLED?
WHAT IF 2020 IS THE YEAR WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR?
A YEAR SO UNCOMFORTABLE, SO PAINFUL, SO SCARY, SO RAW-THAT IT FINALLY FORCES US TO GROW.
A YEAR THAT SCREAMS SO LOUD, FINALLY AWAKENING US FROM OUR IGNORANT SLUMBER.
A YEAR WE FINALLY ACCEPT THE NEED FOR CHANGE.
DECLARE CHANGE. WORK FOR CHANGE. BECOME THE CHANGE.
A YEAR WE FINALLY BAND TOGETHER, INSTEAD OF PUSHING EACH OTHER FURTHER APART.
2020 ISN’T CANCELED, BUT RATHER THE MOST IMPORTANT YEAR OF THEM ALL.”
– leslie dwight
By Michelle Schwake