It has been a rough last few months for the U.S.
That is probably the understatement of the year. It has been an awful last few months.
Right when we start to think we have the COVID-19 pandemic under control, the enduring virus of racism and injustice comes back to the forefront. It may get temporarily overshadowed by other news stories from time to time, but let’s face it, it never went away. It is a scourge we have dealt with as a country for hundreds of years.
It is hard to put into words the sheer horror of watching George Floyd murdered on video, his life expiring in agonizing fashion for all the world to see. It is not an exaggeration to say that it is the most disturbing video I have ever watched. I was left without words, but many emotions. Horror. Sadness. Frustration. Despair. Anger. Lots of anger.
In times of tragedy, words disappear. I’ve wanted to write something for weeks, but everything I wrote felt incomplete. It still does. This is the best I can do.
I guess I’ll start here, with the most obvious part: no one, no matter who they are, deserves to have their life taken away from them. Especially due to something as insidious and utterly futile as racism. It is heartbreaking that in 2020, we have not developed a greater sense of care and empathy for one another. That we have not evolved as a society to treat everyone with respect and dignity that each of us deserves, regardless of race. We have the capacity to do it, and we’ve made strides, but we just don’t seem to have the will to eradicate it once and for all.
If there’s any silver lining, technology, for all its drawbacks, has allowed the world to see what has been going on all these years. Now that everyone has a video camera on their phones, many events, including those that are painful and grotesque, are now being recorded that in the past we only heard about. Maybe on occasion there was a grainy security video, but now, every citizen has the capability of documenting, in high definition, the injustice we have always wanted to sweep under the rug.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbury are just the latest examples of lives taken too soon. I know there are countless others, too many to list. Each death is one too many.
I believe that we are all of equal value in this world, created in the image of God, no better or worse than one another. I believe that we are born with a divine spark of infinite worth that comes from God Himself. We may have different skin colors, levels of mobility or socioeconomic circumstances. We may speak different languages or come from other countries. But we are all equal, and must treat one another as such. Killing someone because they are different from you is a tragedy and an affront to God. There is beauty in our diversity. Knowing and befriending people from different backgrounds is how we learn about the world, shape our worldview and build empathy. It is how we see that at the end of the day, we are not all that different. Outward appearances are deceiving.
Speaking of God, I was fortunate the other day to stumble upon an article about George Floyd that shed light on his faith, his character and his care for others. Sadly, we’ll always know how he died, but he also deserves to be known for how he lived.
The last few weeks have been a time of reflection. A time for listening. Absorbing. Understanding. Grieving. Yet I know that for all the complex emotions I may feel, for my African-American friends, coworkers, and fellow citizens, their emotion is that much more raw.
I have been blessed to know people of all races and ethnicities in my life, having grown up in a diverse neighborhood and attending public schools with people from all walks of life. I like to think that I don’t have a racist bone in my body. Yet, these last few weeks have really driven home a humbling point: Just because I am not racist, does that mean I am doing enough? The answer is no.
Just because I treat people equally, and believe that we are all equal in the eyes of God, and just because my level of empathy has increased as a result of my muscle disease, that doesn’t give me a pass. There are still actions I can take, even small actions, that when added up, can make a difference.
The trap we often run into is when we encounter an overwhelming problem like racism (or any other complex, weighty issue), it seems like any small action we could take isn’t enough. That grand action is needed. And although, yes, grand, bold action certainly helps, especially on a policy level, our small actions, the ones we can take on a daily basis, can be just as effective in bringing about positive change. Small actions and conscious habits compound over time.
It’s never fun to look in the mirror and realize I haven’t done enough. But this moment requires humility. It requires examining preconceived notions and biases and actions and figuring out how I can build up others, especially those whose life experiences are far different from my own. And there are many ways to do so. I could be a mentor to someone from a disadvantaged background. I could make a recurring contribution to organizations fighting inequality. I could take a more active interest in public policy, on a local and state level, and educate myself on relevant legislation. I could develop free resilience resources that are accessible to all. And many other actions not listed here. There is no shortage of ways to make an impact! (And if you have other ideas and suggestions, I’d love to hear them.)
Although humbling, and despite all the pain and anger of the last few weeks, I remain hopeful. We still have a long way to go as a country and as a world. But I hope that this distressing time takes us one step closer to the ideal world we all hope for. I hope that this time, a tangible difference can be made. I feel it already, but it must be backed up by consistent action, not just wishes. There is obviously a lot of baggage we must yet overcome, but every step in the right direction is worthwhile. Until we can have a day where we can look past race, we must continue to advocate for justice. I hope – and need – to be part of the solution.
Beneath the Skin
Skin carries so much history, baggage, and emotion, but at the end of the day, skin is just a fraction of who we are, biologically speaking. Beneath the surface we are all the same. Literally.
I can’t remember what museum it was, but when I was a child, I saw an exhibit called “Body Worlds”. Here’s a recent promo for the latest installment of the series.
I have two takeaways from that exhibit. First – it was (and still is) terrifying. I’m squeamish. But second, and more important, it shows that you can’t tell who someone is without skin. You have to read the exhibit plaque to find out their age, gender and background. Without our skin, we are indistinguishable.
That always stuck with me. We all have muscles. We all have tissues and organs and bones and scary eyes when they remove your eyelids. But we also all have the same emotions, the same dreams, the same fears, the same heartaches, the same joys.
As humans, we are capable of great evil, but also of even greater compassion. And if we are going to reach our full potential as a society – a just, equitable society – we must look out for and love one another, regardless of skin color. Until that day, we cannot rest.