I will be seventy two years old when my birthday rolls around in November. In my lifetime I have seen:
- Black men and women forced to sit in the back of a bus in which I was able to move around freely.
- Signs on water fountains and bathrooms designating “White” and “Colored.”
- Areas of my city designated as the “black” part of town.
- Little Black children being sent to separate and unequal schools.
- Restaurants and lunch counters where Black citizens were not allowed to eat.
- Poll taxes and tests that restricted Black adults from voting.
- An unspoken rule that Black people needed to leave certain places after sundown.
- The lynching of Black men.
- Groups of Black people protesting peacefully to procure their rights.
- Black children courageously undergoing anger and derision for daring to integrate schools.
- Black leaders being jailed and assassinated.
- Black families being ignored and derided for moving into formerly white neighborhoods.
- Black people enduring insults while taking full advantage of the educational system once it was finally open.
- A Black man inaugurated as the President of the United States, loved by most and reviled by some.
- A Black woman becoming one of the wealthiest and most highly respected people in the world.
- Black people living on my street in harmony with the “United Nations” of our cul de sac.
- Black people being stopped for traffic violations on an avenue near my home where officers seem to look the other way when the same infractions are committed by whites.
- Black people ending up dead when they are stopped or arrested for minor non violent infractions.
- Black people being shot by rogue citizens taking the law into their own hands.
- A renowned Black professor being arrested and harassed for entering his own home.
- Innocent Black souls being shot while they worshipped at church.
- Black athletes kneeling during the National Anthem to demonstrate that Black Lives Matter.
- A Black man being shot while jogging through a neighborhood.
- A Black man pleading for his life while a police officer kneeled on his neck.
Even as I write this incomplete list of the history that I have witnessed my chest contracts and my stomach clinches while I fight to hold back tears of both sorrow and anger. Somehow I feel complicit in the unfair treatment of our Black population because I have watched it unfolding but done so little to make it go away. Now I see that we all must do everything within our power to eradicate the virus of racism that continues to fester in our midst. We can no more ignore the devastating death and destruction of discrimination than the we can pretend that Covid 19 is a hoax.
We cannot change history but we can undo the foul stench of prejudice in our midst. We have to call it what it is and quit pretending that it no longer exists. There is nothing good about self appointed vigilantes who shoot Black teenagers or joggers simply because they appear to be up to mischief. There is nothing good about police officers who hold a Black man down with a knee on the neck for five minutes while the captive cries out that he is dying and can’t breathe. There is nothing good about demonstrations of white people carrying guns and Confederate flags who are left alone even though their behavior is threatening. Somehow a Black man attempting to sell loose cigarettes ends up dead from an arrest but white people carrying Tiki torches and shouting Nazi slogans walk free and are even described as “good people” by the president.
Surely we can see how wrong these things are and how they fester and grow when we ignore a racist comment or refuse to admit that a problem of discrimination is still alive and well. Surely we must understand how frightening it must be for a Black mother to send her Black son out into a world in which an encounter with the wrong person may lead to his death. Surely we can understand the frustrations that an entire group of people in our country are feeling because the evidence is clear that there are people among us who only see color, not a real person with feelings and accomplishments and a loving family. Surely it is becoming clearer to us that for some Black lives don’t seem to matter as much as white ones. Surely we must work as hard as our Black friends and neighbors to eradicate prejudice and to celebrate each individual with dignity and respect.
I watched the movie Glory Memorial Day. There is a single scene in that movie that seems to encapsulate the fear and degradation and anger of the Black experience. The character portrayed by Denzel Washington is being punished for an infraction by being whipped. As he bears the pain of the lashes the camera zooms in on his face. His lips twitch and his nostrils flare as he attempts to control his feelings and demonstrate his courage and his pride as a man. Then as though he cannot control the emotions that lie within his heart a single tear rolls down his face. His humiliation is complete.
This week as I watched the killing of George Floyd I was stunned. For five minutes the cruelty that was inflicted on him was almost too horrific to watch, but I made myself endure every single second. Mr. Floyd begged for his life. He could not breathe. His body hurt all over. He pleaded that he was dying. Finally he called out for his Mama. All the while the loathsome police office who was pinning him down had his hand in his pocket and at one point he even appeared to apply even more pressure on Mr. Floyd’s neck. The other officers did nothing. Nobody came to Mr. Floyd’s aide.
Now it is up to us. We must all demand justice for Mr. Floyd. We must end the hate and call it out wherever and whenever we see it. The disease that continues to fester in our nation must be eradicated wherever we find it.