I exited a conversation with my best friend this week. We were chatting about how sickened we are that Minneapolis police murdered a nonviolent black man, George Floyd. I do not know how anyone under any conditions feels justified in taking another human life, much less when that individual is not threatening their own, much less begging for air. She lamented how depressing it is that humanity isn’t getting any better, that we don’t learn from history and continue being awful to one another. The conversation was too big and heavy for me to deal with during the work day. I felt my panic rising. Because that sense of futility, of hopelessness that nothing is getting better–those are my deep fears. Neither of us want to live in the type of place where police exercise deadly force without a threat to their lives. My brain grabbed for that one essay/chapter of a book where someone smarter than me addresses this concept and how it is a fallacy, but I came up short of the title. I tossed out a “think of the big picture” comment about how even though it feels that nothing is improving, I believe, as horrifying and terrible as every new racist murder is, overall the country is getting better.
It’s getting better because we are looking. This country was built on ugliness, on the trade, subjugation, brutalization and exploitation of enslaved people. Exploiting and murdering people of color is a truly evil and despicable part of this nation’s history, and though I don’t claim to be an expert, I know that race-based violence was far more mainstream and accepted the farther back you look. Now, we have the technology to record and share abuses of power with the world. Yes, racism is alive and well, but now we can expose it to the light of public opinion and demand change.
We are connected in our reactions (horror, mourning, rage) and our actions (signing petitions/calling/emailing the DA to demand that the people who perpetrated and who allowed the perpetration of this murder to be held accountable. Though I don’t condone destruction, I understand why Minneapolis is burning in protest. This is a reckoning.
What I didn’t have the time or the emotional energy to remind my BFF is that, as MLK made famous, the moral arc of history bends towards justice. This is not to say that the arc is a straight, ever-upward line. There are setbacks and tough times, and race-based violence has certainly increased since 2016. But systemic racism hasn’t gone anywhere, hasn’t decreased or increased. It is invisible. It is only there if we look. People choosing to stand up and mobilize on behalf of decency and good and refusing to tolerate bigotry and hate and inequality.. that’s how we bend the arc towards justice. Critical mass engagement.
I believe in reading about other experiences than my own, so here is a lengthy list of books about racial literacy!
I didn’t set out to write about this. I wanted to write about this amazing book I read called Kiss the Ground. Without getting too into the weeds, (is dad humor acceptable now that I’ve changed the subject?) it dealt with soil’s role in the carbon cycle, and it made me want to start a small farm and harvest it with my hands. I wanted to write about how nature is healing during the corona shutdown. I wanted to share a laugh at the “nature is healing / we are the virus” photos online. In case I haven’t been clear up to this point, I very much believe that we are the virus. We are the problem human-to-human, and human-to-environment. Our consumer- and profit-driven culture is killing the planet (specifically the heavy use of chemicals/factory farming and the omnipresence of plastics).
In this way, I have been so grateful for this insular time. (Yes, I am aware that being grateful for the pandemic is a privilege and acknowledge that I have an income and a yet-able-ish body.) I have barely driven my car, eliminating my guilt over burning fossil fuels. I have supported local businesses rather than monoliths. (At this point I almost entirely avoid Amazon, because this amount of money is sickening, crisis or not, when you consider how these companies pay SO little in taxes and how so many Americans are literally going hungry right now.) It isn’t easy to have our culture completely halted, and there’s that nagging fear that any time we leave our houses we will contract and spread a fatal disease, but the Earth is benefitting from this break from our fossil fuel addiction. This shutdown has disrupted our resource-guzzling autopilot.
Because yes, it is inconvenient and scary and uncomfortable being forced to stay at home and stop production/socializing/life as usual. But the air is clearing. Mount Everest is visible from 120 miles away whereas usually pollution obscures the view. This time is an amazing opportunity for clarity, for stillness. For observation and for recharging. But this clarity can only move those who look. When the world resumes again, we have the opportunity and responsibility to rebuild. I, for one, do not want to resume life as usual. I want something better. The status quo does not work for the critical mass.
Yes, there is a lot of turbulence right now, and it’s true that anger and violence in and of themselves don’t solve anything. But we have to take stock. We have to look at the problems we’ve been keeping in the dark. To recognize inequity, imbalance and their resulting rage. People in power can’t keep exercising ultimate control over other people, and they can’t keep exploiting the Earth’s natural resources. We can come out of this recentered, with a more inclusive, sustainable, equitable and engaged populace. I am appalled at how our government has responded to this crisis, and at how my fellow Americans are willing and eager to tolerate or perpetrate racist hate. If we look around, we must recognize that our country is not as great as we thought. We have to do better, in so many ways. If we look, we have to recognize that all people want and are made of the same stuff.
We can’t keep looking away from the problems in our country (same goes for the plethora of human rights violations around the world). Our government and industry have the power to create new jobs dedicated to sustainability and we the people have the power to elect leaders who have the powerless’ best interest at heart. Leaders who care about tomorrow and not just about profits today. Now is the time to reach out and help. To talk to people, even if they are hard conversations. To come together and demand change with this new clarity. If you look, there are plenty of people who share your fears, beliefs and hopes. Find them. Shine your light with them.
*not on facebook. Facebook doesn’t count.