Whenever there is social unrest, artists – including writers, poets, essayists, musicians, dancers, spoken word specialists, painters …come out. They come out and express through their talents and gifts the soul of those who does not have that capacity.
Many new songs and written pieces have emerged during this troubling time in America – caused first by the invasion of the coronavirus, and then by the shooting deaths of three black people – Armaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd – whose situations made the news. Arbery was shot in cold blood by white vigilantes, and Taylor and Floyd were killed by police officers.
And though I have wanted to write, I have not been able to. The grief I feel is so deep, unlike any grief I have felt in my life as I have worked to try to expose, explain, and eliminate as much racism as possible by teaching people what is up, why history matters, and that they have the power to change things.
But this grief is different. It is a grief that began when Donald J. Trump became president. From the beginning, I could see that he was bad news for black and brown people. His mere presence, his arrogance, his lying, his disregard for America and America’s constitution, his sexism, his race-baiting, and his tacit encouragement of racial violence, got into my soul early on.
More than that, the number of people following him, lifting him up as some kind of messiah, saying that he either was God or was sent here by God, boggled my spirit, and the silence of white evangelicals bore a hole into a part of me that had made me believe that though their theology was different from mine, they still had – somewhere – some basic Christian principles. They claimed to be Christian, after all.
But since his election, I have seen nothing but the eroding of the gains all kinds of groups and individuals have made. I have seen GOP senators, representatives, mayors, governors, and cabinet members bow at his feet. I have cried out loud as I have watched his attorney general run roughshod over the justice he is supposed to seek. I have watched this president silence those who have sought to report dangerous happenings in the government, and put in place sycophants who are more afraid of him and what he will do than they are concerned with the lives of the people of this country.
I think the breaking point came last week, as that video of the white officer killing George Floyd by keeping his knee on his neck, did it – put my soul in this place of deep grief. The murder itself was horrendous, but it was the smug expression on that officer’s face (I refuse to use his name) that got to me. It told the story of white supremacist thinking and attitudes that have always existed. His face said, “I can do what I want and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.” His face said, “yeah, I hear this man begging for his life, but I don’t have to listen to him and I will say that his demise was his own fault.” That expression said, “I am a cop and I can do whatever I want,” and his expression said, “Fuck you all.”
I still shudder as I remember how his face got to me. I shudder when I think of how this president has said nothing publicly to comfort that man’s family or the families of the other black people who have essentially been lynched. While he urged the Michigan governor to speak to and negotiate with white men with assault weapons who stood in her capital building, angry because of the “shelter in place” rules, he has called those who are angry because they are tired of black people being dehumanized, criminalized, and eliminated – either by poverty or by law enforcement.
The president is making no bones about wanting to mobilize those who have been craving a war between the races for some time. His militarization, or deeper militarization of law enforcement, is sickening, and the silence of his sycophants is even more sickening. He is working to undo this government and his friends in high places are helping him. His jaunt to St. John’s Episcopal Church after law enforcement forced peaceful protestors out of LaFayette Park with tear gas was gut-wrenching to watch. His bodacious and disrespectful pose in front of the church holding a bible – and the silence of evangelicals about it – is still sickening to think about. His calling peaceful protesters “terrorists” while ignoring the very real and disturbing presence and work of white nationalist and supremacists is not surprising, but troubling.
He is standing on and in his whiteness.
But I have to say this: Your whiteness will not protect you. People who are white are going to suffer just like black and brown people. Your whiteness will not protect you from poverty, illness, and the inability to get health care or necessary medicine. Your whiteness will not exempt your children and loved ones from getting COVID-19, because the virus, unleashed, doesn’t give a damn about one’s race, ethnicity, or political persuasion. Your whiteness will not keep you from suffering because you cannot get unemployment benefits – and ultimately, to the politicians – your whiteness will not protect you from being voted out of office. James Baldwin said that people make a moral decision to be white – meaning, they choose to lie in the comfort of the false construct called white superiority, enabling them to ignore the people around them.
But it will not protect you, because viruses spread. Just as the coronavirus is spreading, so is the virus of racism. The infection may not have reached you yet, but it will, and when it does, I hope you have enough chutzpah to endure it. History says you won’t. You have gotten so comfortable in your whiteness that you have grown weak; you have not had to exercise and strengthen the spiritual muscles the oppressed have had to develop. You will feel the pain you have inflicted on others. What you have put into the universe will not only come back to you, it is on its way now.
A candid observation.