We Can’t Keep Looking Away

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I have a grandson who is a runner. Seeing him gracefully striding around a track is a thing of beauty, the ultimate vision of human endurance and grace. He has a particular racing style that reminds me of a gazelle and I never tire of watching him in action.

This would have been a record breaking year for him but sadly after only a few track meets the season ended when schools were closed due to the virus. He has continued to run each day nonetheless. Those moments when he is able to feel the wind on his face and achieve a feeling of being totally in sync with the world have been good for him. They allow him to forget about the troubles we are facing if only for a few minutes each day.

I thought of my grandson when I first heard of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia by two men claiming to have taken him down under suspicion of being a thief on the run. When I eventually saw the video of Ahmaud in his last moments I was stunned. I saw his jogger’s stride before he encountered his attackers. This was not the furtive motion of someone evading capture. It was most certainly the pace of a seasoned runner who was pursuing a most innocent pastime. He must have been terrified as he realized what was happening and he struggled unsuccessfully to get away from the danger. Watching the film is exceedingly difficult and heart wrenching but we cannot look away from it because it holds a truth that we must face.

Of course there is a difference between my grandson and Ahmaud that is striking. Ahmaud was a black man while my grandson has blonde hair and blue eyes. Ahmaud had a lovely smile that lit up his face, but those vigilantes who became judge, jury and executioner without even a consideration of evidence would never have seen his sweetness. The color of his skin and the fact that he was running was all they needed to know.

Sadly they got away with their crime for a time. Law enforcement accepted their story and seemingly decided the case was closed. Ahmaud might have been just another casualty of racism, the victim of a lynching, had not his mother continued to question the circumstances surrounding her son’s death. Eventually videos of the scene that had been filmed by passersby emerged providing an unavoidable clarity for determining what had actually happened. Over seventy days later the two men were arrested.

My daughter says that she does not worry when my grandson runs in the neighborhood. He is a good boy and almost everyone knows him, but she understands that if she and he were black she would be terrified each time that he set out from home with his track shoes. We still have far too many in our country who seem to believe that color, not character defines people. They are suspicious of anyone who does not fit the stereotypes of their minds and sadly too many among us excuse their flawed thinking. It is easier to look away when people spew their hate and sometimes even our leaders attempt to cover the ugliness of such actions by insisting that those who spread their foul beliefs are really just good people who are frustrated or feeling left out.

As humans we often feel so uncomfortable confronting truth. When athletes kneel during the National Anthem to shed light on the racism that still exists we tend to ignore or insult them. On the whole we are unwilling to admit that there is a double standard that lurks beneath the veneer of our society. Groups among us will become enraged when a white hairdresser is jailed for flaunting restrictions during our pandemic, but they can’t see the reasoning behind the Black Lives Matter movement. If groups of minorities protest it is often called a riot but if gun toting white men scream in the faces of state troopers because they do not want to be restricted by pandemic rules even our president applauds them for fighting against tyranny. Then those same folds scratch their heads in wonder when any minority feels beset upon.

I’ve been having a difficult time maintaining my usual optimism for the past couple of weeks. I am witnessing a level of anger and ugliness that I have not seen since my high school and college days when we were engaged in a struggle to end segregation and a war in Vietnam that had gone so very wrong. It was a frightening time during which the curtain that had been hiding the rot that festered in our nation was drawn wide open. A schism rocked the country and we all found ourselves either choosing sides or averting our glances and joining the silent majority. When the dust finally settled we were eager to just go back to a more normal state, but far too much had simply been swept under the rug where it has been sitting ever since becoming foul. Somehow our nation’s biggest mistakes have never been properly faced and rectified. We are still too afraid to admit that while we have freed the people whose ancestors were wrongfully enslaved and even given them the rights that we take for granted they are still struggling to be free from judgement and persecution. We have yet to adequately call out the racism that exists in corners of our society and because of that it only tends to grow.

I realize that we will never be able to eradicate hatred. It is been a part of the human experience since Cain killed Abel. All across the globe one group fights with another. What we can do is call out those who flaunt their racism in the public square. We must insist that our leaders deride any person or group who discriminates and foments violence against a particular group. We have to quit categorizing individuals based on the characteristics of color or ethnicity or sexual preference or religion and we need to voice our disdain for those who do.

Our future in the coming weeks and months is uncertain but while we are rebuilding our economy we would do well to consider insisting that our leaders understand that we have grown weary of accepting a status quo that still allows stereotyping. We need to finally speak up. Looking away is no longer an option.