We can do this. We really can.
All of us together.
Systemic racism in this country is an insidious plague implicit in the formation of the United States, blatant in driving out Native Americans, accepted with the ownership of slaves, deemed necessary during the holding of Japanese citizens during WWII, sanctioned and supported for over 100 years with Jim Crowe laws. It has been fought against valiantly, but has never been purged from the blood of Americans.
The reason it has not been purged is because racism does not simply live in the laws of our country. It lives in our bodies, minds, emotions, hearts and spirit.
And it lives in every single one of us. I don’t write that in the same vein as “ALL lives matter” in response to the cry for help from our black brothers and sisters, and it is certainly not meant to discount privilege or willful ignorance (i.e. denial) in the white community. It is meant to acknowledge that every single person in this country has been impacted by racism- whether as a beneficiary of it or as a victim, sometimes both. Racism resides in our beings. It has been passed down from generation to generation.
Racial inequality lives in the formation of our cities and school districts, in Native American reservations, in the war on drugs, in the training of police officers, the political landscape, and in many other systemic programs and laws built into the framework of the U.S.
But it also thrives in the nooks and crannies of each one of us. This is where it must ultimately be destroyed.
The fact that the recent killings of Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have taken place while the world is grappling with a global pandemic is…. Well, maybe it is exactly the metaphor we need to deal with the sickness that is killing our nation from the inside out.
Although there is debate over the precautions and care necessary to keep each of us and our loved ones safe from COVID-19, there is a universal understanding of what a virus is, how it infects our bodies and how to fight it.
And while it is true that some people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have no symptoms and others get sick but recover fairly easily, we also know that this virus kills the most vulnerable of us, the ones with underlying illnesses, the ones who need our aid, assistance and recognition the most.
Racism is a virus.
Right now, people are flooding social media with stories about how racism has affected their lives. From black men writing about being pulled over because they “match a description” to lists of subtle racism throughout a lifetime, to white women “clutching their pearls” (as one African American author wrote) against atrocities they swear they never knew existed, to people confessing incidents when their actions were racist, or when they witnessed racism and did nothing.
We are all starting to look inside ourselves for the virus. We are all beginning to get tested. We are recognizing the symptoms and looking for the cure.
Yes, it is terrifying. Yes, it is overwhelming. Yes, it is uncomfortable (to say the least.)
But it is a start.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ~ Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
Love is the cure.
Not a “bless your heart” kind of love, but the dig deep, get messy, feel the pain, share the pain, shed the tears, do the work, I will never leave you kind of love.
So please, keep starting. Keep sharing. Keep looking inside. Keep going. Draw the virus out of your body. Share your story. Listen to each other. Take a step. Then take another one.
The virus of hatred loves darkness. It grows, thrives and rejoices in hidden pain, turmoil and trauma. But now we are bringing hatred into the light. Trust that the light will destroy it.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Trust that eyes are opening. Trust that empathy and understanding are spreading. Trust that our hearts will be unclenched from the grip of racism. Trust that we are fighting a common enemy. Trust that this time is different.
Trust that together we can change the world.