I’m sure you’ve seen the raw anger and outrage boiling over on the streets throughout this country in the past weeks. It’s impossible not to have, really.
Most likely you’ve glimpsed the video of George Floyd, an African American man, gasping his last breaths while his neck was under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer two weeks ago. What followed is the social rupture we are witnessing, whether in person or through the media.
This includes the looting and civil unrest that have attached themselves to the protests, which I don’t condone. I am convinced, though, that those peacefully demonstrating have their hearts set on addressing a genuine social ill.
I’m not really writing this column to give a lecture on the tentacles of racism that many say run throughout our society, or any other type of unjust discrimination; you can read about these issues from people who are way more knowledgeable and convincing in them than I am. Rather, I’m writing to reflect on my own lack of familiarity with the topic.
If you’re reading these words in the newspaper right now, more than likely you can walk out your front door and breathe in the peacefulness that is in the air. Summer is coming, the birds are singing in the trees, and no major protests – nor looting – have taken root up in these parts.
Extending out from the urban to the rural, the swift currents of revolution tend to slow, stagnate, and gelatinize, locking us into a static sense of tranquility and complacency here.
This somewhat segues into the contours of my own comfortable bubble, which I’ve recently begun to feel out. Just how large is it? What, exactly, does it obscure of the world outside my own experience? What am I not truly, fully seeing and experiencing? It feels like I’m geographically and socially removed from something that should be foremost in my conscience.
I don’t truly know discrimination. To my knowledge, I’ve had absolutely zero experiences with discrimination of any kind, or the attendant anxieties and self-doubt that come along with it. I’m a college-educated white guy who has the financial freedom to travel and work in various parts of the world, with really no sense of institutional injustice or opportunities withheld from me.
I can’t empirically (a word I stress) say that Americans of races, religions, gender orientations, etc. other than mine more often feel harassed or discounted by the system, or that they perceive distinct and unjust differences in how individuals holding identities similar to mine experience life here. But I know that systemic discrimination exists in some form, or rather, multiple forms. Too many people speak about it for this to be a figment of faulty perception.
In all my curiosity about the world, I just haven’t yet studied it in any depth.
But this innocence just makes it harder for me to engage with what’s really going on in our country today. Yes, I’m angry and disheartened that discrimination still exists in what we advertise as “the land of the free,” but maybe not as angry as those whom it directly affects, those who march on American city streets on this day, at this hour.
Still, knowing this, the problem must be dealt with, and dealt with in ways and methods that, again, I remain unenlightened to confidently speak about.
There’s a lot of socially-pressured homework that I have to do.
No one likes times like these. They’re confusing, taut, not easy to navigate. We prefer to live in circumstances when it is at least easier to believe that we have a decent grasp of what’s going on around us. Perhaps it was easier in times past to not think about these things.
But in today’s age, thanks to social media and a world more closely connected in general, this generation cannot. People no longer see truths as writing on the wall; television and smartphone screens now broadcast the obvious far further than any wall could do.
I’ve been wondering if, as an American who would rather live in a country that moves more forcefully to eradicate discrimination, I should go and join the (peaceful) demonstrations in Detroit or elsewhere, despite the COVID threat. However, I think I have to do some more research first.
I don’t like the concept of “institutionalized racism,” but I feel that I should initially learn about all of its angles so that I know wholeheartedly what it is that I’m protesting against.
Contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org,