‘And still I rise’ is a poem written by Mayou Angelou, published in 1978. I am sure it has resonated with millions of people over the years offering inspiration, as it has done for me. It’s a paeon offering hope for black men and women to continue to believe even under duress and equally so for the rest of us in all sorts of other circumstances. Seeing events unfold in America over the past week, I hope it is more than ever a call to keep believing in a better future.
It has saddened and sickened me over a lifetime, half of which was spent in a country predominantly white and the last 30 years in predominantly black countries, to see that so few inequities have been addressed fairly or humanely by America and many other countries in the way they treat or, more accurately mistreat, those who are different whether by ethnicity, colour, gender, age, religion, education or earning ability and so on ad nauseum, because it seems, somewhere along the line in society’s mis-named human ‘evolutionary’ progress, the list for justifying discriminatory practices grew exponentially.
It’s become ‘fashionable’ to be ‘politically correct’ but that’s all it seems to be – a dressing up, lipstick and mascara slapped on to conceal the imperfections and offered up as genuine change. Empty rhetoric devoid of a deeper intention. This is the show on America’s runway today but justifiably receiving unwanted negative attention and not applause. The murders, the beatings, the illegal acts of a police force supposed to protect everyone’s rights are now on full display and the citizens and their supporters are righteously angry with fundamentally good reasons. But here it is in a nutshell: a singular example of why black citizens have decided ‘no more’.
I receive CNN’s bulleted headlines, a newsletter in my e.mail. These are the two points which jumped off the page for me: “An anti-lynching bill. Sparks flew on the Senate floor over a bill that would make lynching a federal crime. Republican Senator Rand Paul wanted to add an amendment that would narrow the scope of crimes that fall under its penalties”. What the …..! Not already in existence? I am not naive, but automatically assumed this must naturally be enshrined in federal law. The second point was this: “$565 billion. That’s how much money America’s billionaires have made since March 18h of this year, according to a report by the Institute for Policy Studies. In that same time period, 43 million Americans have filed for initial unemployment benefits”. There it is, America the great, but only for the select few, so no need to ask how or why the country ended up with the current hate-mongering, divisive president. The answer is right there in two simple paragraphs. Simple basic expectations of parity unmet.
But Americans can do better than that, many are better than that. There are good, caring, thoughtful and intelligent people as we have seen with the many rallies and protests in many cities and all over the world; others standing in solidarity with their black brothers and sisters, composed of all ethnicities and colours. Systemic racism is a plague and thanks to the internet we can now see it up close, personal and ugly and none of us can now plead ignorance, even though we may have previously been unaware of the full extent of it being acted out every day. None of us can now say it doesn’t affect us because it does. We have the means of instant communication so everything in this ever-shrinking universe of ours is joined. We are all connected one way or another through the complexities of modern life, through social media, travel, corporations, manufacturing, trade, food, armaments and even wars in countries other than our own have ramifications for all. A prime example is the coronavirus which began on one side of the world and rapidly spread like wildfire to every corner of the planet.
If we are not immediately involved, it’s normal to question what we can do. First of all, if we are white we are already more entitled than any other ethnicity. We need to become knowledgeable about the histories of other countries, other races, minorities and the role we have played in their suppression. While it is not personally my fault or yours, it is our responsibility to understand the history and adjust our behaviour and our reactions accordingly. There is a massive amount of information on slavery in the US and other countries, as well as how indigenous, Indian and Aboriginal populations have been abused. No excuses for not being aware and no reason not to speak or act for change. The most damaging and selfish thing we can do as human beings when we see injustice, is to do nothing.