Since the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis, we have seen the entire country – indeed the entire world – rally for racial equity and justice. We have also seen many institutions of all kinds release statements “in support of Mr. Floyd and his family,” or “against racism and oppression.” For far too long and way too often we have seen and read statements like these. My own place of work has issued not one, but two statements in the last week. Some statements though, ring hollow as if they are done under duress (and maybe they are, I don’t know), while others seem to be sincere and give a sense of hope that there will be some action taken towards a better, brighter future. There are several of the latter type that I have seen, but I will draw your attention to four in particular. My reason for choosing these, when you read them, should be obvious.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that we all stand together to end racism and I believe in the (what I hope are good) intentions of these statements and the often heartfelt sentiments behind them. I do find myself asking, though, when will we move beyond the statements? What ACTIONS will we take to move towards this just society to which so many of us make reference? What does that just society even look like? In a conversation with a friend recently we asked that very question. His response to me was a very simple one; “We don’t want to be killed by the police.” It seems simple doesn’t it. And when, as in this case of George Floyd, the police officer responsible for the death of a Black person *is* arrested and charged, as the Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison puts it, “history shows that trying and winning a case like this one is hard.” [MN Attorney General Ellison Press Release, June 3, 2020, accessed June 4, 2020].
Is “not being killed by the police” enough justice to end the systemic racism and oppression we see and some of us experience? Where is the accountability behind these statements? When we say in these statements that we will do this or we will change that, how long does it take to make these changes or to do these things? This is hardly the first time we have made these statements at our various places of employment, so what have we – collectively, as a society – done since the last time we issued one of these statements? Where is the ACTION? Where is the CHANGE? We can call out racist rhetoric, for example, and then in the next (or even the same) breath also say we must protect “free speech.” What message does that send to the person against whom that rhetoric was directed? It says you don’t care! At least, that’s what it says to me. This is a very simple example of the type of change that can happen, but doesn’t. And it makes me angry. And it makes me sad.
And yet, with all these emotions (and more) and with the most recent acts of racism occurring while in the midst of a pandemic, I push on. I go to work, I share my thoughts, I encourage my colleagues and friends and they encourage me. And some of the people I expect to care, or who I’d think would (or should) care, are silent. But, I push on! These two pieces below have been circulated a lot – at least in the circles in which I travel. I’m not sure I could have said it better.
In 2004 when Janet Jackson won her “Soul Train Music Awards” award (OK, don’t ding me for keeping this quote), she said in her acceptance speech, “Black women possess a special indestructible strength that allows us to not only get down, but to get up, to get through and to get over.” And here we are, in 2020, as Black people, trying to get through. And we do get through, with the help of great allies and friends, and family and faith. Despite the fact that there are so many people who don’t take the time to understand the impact – physically, psychologically, emotionally – being Black in America, especially at times like these has. I see these people, and I hear these people and I want to say, “WAKE THE HELL UP! LISTEN TO ME! HEAR ME! SEE ME!” And then I think, what’s the point? They have no desire to, or they can’t, or they simply choose not to.
At those times, I can hear the words of a long time friend, saying, “don’t let anyone steal your joy.” And while I remain grateful for all that I have – MY LIFE, my faith, my family, friends, food, shelter, and other basic necessities – sometimes it just feels like there isn’t a lot of joy left to be stolen.