“It’s in the great tradition of the best of Black people, of people who have been hated chronically systemically for 400 years but have taught the world so much about love and how to love. “ – Dr. Cornel West, Interview with Anderson Cooper; CNN June 10, 2020
This past month has been a time of great reckoning for our country, for the white community, and for those of us who believe in the ideals of democracy, justice and equal treatment under the law. We enter the month of July, four months into a pandemic, and a time of great upheaval in America. I have tried to think of what to say, or how to address the pain inflicted upon Black and Brown communities, over and over again…and I can’t come up with anything meaningful. I blame some of that on brain decay, due to the extraordinary levels of cortisol pumping through my body ever since the pandemic began. In all honesty though, there is nothing more to say…the time for apologies has past, nor can the brutality be excused any longer. If we are to truly make amends, to begin to heal wounds or alleviate trauma, we must move to meaningful action.
The upside of being quarantined?
The pent up anger over a wholly inadequate government response has coalesced with the righteous anger towards systemic racism and police brutality. News of innocent souls lost may have likely never made the news in the first place, have now flooded our social media feeds. If we hadn’t remained vigilant and voyeuristic, all while longing for the days when we were free to move about as we pleased, unrestricted, untethered, unmasked, white America may have missed the news of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Robert Fuller, Riah Milton, and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells. The outrage over Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and many others, fizzled quickly as people quickly moved on to the next distraction in their lives, and in their work. Now, with more than 40 million people out of work and the jobless rate hovering near to Depression Era levels, people have nothing to “escape” to/from. We have been afforded the rare opportunity to cease all distractions, and truly bear witness to the suffering that our Black and Brown communities have long endured. Rather than misdirecting our grief over what semblance of normal we once had pre-pandemic, we have protested, and continually flooded elected officials with demands for investigations and rightful arrests…demands for justice.
You are seeing more involvement, more outrage, from the white community for the first time since I can remember, maybe for the first time since the 1960s. This pent up anger from being on lockdown, co-mingled with the rage over repeated police brutality is shaking this nation to its core. For many in the white community, they are just “seeing” this truth that the Black Community has been living since being stolen from their homes 400+ years ago. People on the left side of the political spectrum are angry that the government hasn’t done enough to intervene on behalf of those who did not benefit equally from what we believed to be the democratic process. People on the “right” side of the political spectrum are angry that the government is overly involved in the equality fight, because of “states’ rights” and all. As I always say, follow the money…
The more that people awaken to the suffering of the oppressed, the more they will begin to see it is the love of money which flows from the center of the US’ social construct. The American Revolutionary War was fought over excessive taxation, and without proper representation in the King’ court, we wanted freedom from Britain’s exploitative colonial rule, and Parliament’s greed. The Civil War was also fought on the premise that the economy would be destroyed if enslaved Black people were freed. At the time, the southern states were raking in millions of dollars on the backs of free labor, while the northern states benefited from the tariffs collected on those millions. Economists have calculated that the cost of the Civil War, estimated at over $10 billion in 1860 dollars, would have been more than enough to buy the freedom of every slave, purchase them land, and even pay reparations. Yet, the south did not accept the deal Lincoln offered, in order to avoid the war…why? Greed. And Greed is the worst of all the sins…we have since the continual exploitation of labor throughout history, in the name of economic prosperity. Yet, the prosperity only benefited the slave owners….the wealthy few…never the enslaved.
That is not economic prosperity. When all individuals, as well as the country, have and maintain their own wealth, along with a good quality of life, that is economic prosperity. We have allowed racism to handcuff this nation’s ability to grow the GDP in a meaningful and sustainable way, because we have cut off nearly 40% of our population from building intergenerational wealth. Income inequality is at an all time high, with the wage gap between whites and blacks even more expansive. Lack of universal healthcare and access to quality education has decreased our competitiveness in the global marketplace. Further gaps in community policing, legal representation, social representation, voting rights, business owner rights, travel, health care…rights in nearly every corner of life equates to trillions of dollars in lost economic prosperity. Job opportunities lost as the corporate welfare system continue to relocate factories to countries that allow them the opportunity to exploit workers abroad. The rich, white community, who have exerted dominance over marginalized communities for hundreds of years, is solely responsible for creating this void.
Our path forward
How do we ever begin to apologize for 400+ years of the oppression, and often sadistic treatment of the Black and Brown communities, when this treatment continues into present day? How do we move forward in a way to create meaningful changes that will end the systemic injustices, which have occurred since the 1600s? There just don’t seem to be an adequate amount of words to begin to describe the feelings of remorse and sadness that I (and many others in the white community) feel as we reflect both upon our history, and current day disparities between class and race. This does not mean that apologies are not owed, nor that reparations shouldn’t be paid. Rather, we cannot let this “white guilt” prevent us from taking necessary action to begin to right the wrongs that have been done.
The path towards change is slow, grind up a steep hill, but I believe Lady Liberty has finally grown tired of the bullshit and this nation must, once and for all, atone for its sins. There is a bright light is shining into back alleys of implicit bias, but if we don’t move quickly the sun will set, and this time we have been given for reflection and soul-searching will pass. The pandemic will end, and what lessons will we have learned? Dr. West was right…we must learn what our Black brothers and sisters are here to teach us. Not only learn about their struggles, we must learn how to move forward from a place of love. In a time of atonement, we must make amends for the hatred, the vitriol, the anger that was never ours to hold onto anyway. The hatred for “other” belongs to the billionaire class, it belongs to our ancestors, and it can no longer be our burden to carry. It is their way of sowing the seeds of fear between us, to keep their wealth, and maintain the status quo.
For generations, we have allowed greed to have its way with our social hierarchy, as we put money ahead of love, valued capitalism over humanity, and protected commercial elites by use of force to make the rich richer. All while we watch the poor die in the streets with knees on their necks, whispering “I can’t breathe”. Yet, Brother West, Martin Luther King, Jr., Diane Nash, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, James Bevel, Annie Lee Cooper, John Lewis, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Whitney Young, and so many more, did not seek vengeance. They sought righteousness. “Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races…It takes skill to be real, time to heal each other” (2Pac). We are a critical juncture in our nation’s history, but if we don’t remain vigilant, if we move too quickly to the next distraction….what will come of this movement? The love we feel for our fellow humans must not die in vain. Seeking a skillful path carved from a place of love seemed like the only logical way forward to defeat the hate enshrined by greed. You want to pay reparations? Start with relieving the enormous cost of health care, and then close the income/wealth gap. If we get rid of the Corporate Welfare system, we can afford to do both at the same time.