“It’s not just anger over what happened to George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, or Ahmaud Arbery. It is anger about continuing to live in a world where there is this presumption of dangerousness and guilt wherever you go…I have a lot of honorary degrees and went to Harvard. And I still go places where I am presumed dangerous… And I can just tell you that when you have to navigate this presumption of guilt, day in and day out, and when the burden is on you to make the people around you see you as fully human and equal, you get exhausted. You are tired.” – Brian Stevenson, New Yorker
Spoiler alert: There is a scene early in the film, where attorney Brian Stevenson (played by Micahel B. Jordan) first arrives at the prison and is forced into a strip search by a white policeman who intimidates and speaks down to him like a criminal. There is a pivotal moment of silence when no words are spoken, and all that can be heard is a deafening gaze of anger, frustration, and reluctant acceptance.
I wanted to change the world and I couldn’t. I studied human rights, anthropology, focusing on international human rights law. I was a part of numerous nonprofits including a civil rights organization that fought against Islamophobia in New York City and I read countless academic reports on the systematic injustices brought on by our legal system. I wanted to fight – for those who couldn’t fight for themselves, whose voices had been silenced. For people, much like my immigrant Asian mother, who was forced to endure silently, daily racial slurs, blatant aggression, and who was regularly told to “learn English or go back to where she came from”.
I’ve suppressed much of my own processing of my childhood racism and channeled it through my work. I took a semester off to help author anti-sex trafficking literature in Asia, I worked as a volunteer coordinator in organizations that fed orphans, gave medical treatments to the impoverished, and taught English to vulnerable women in the sex trade.
All this to say – that I’ve really done nothing and have been all but silent in the face of racism in my own country. I’ve been afraid of the truth and consequences behind the stories of what happened to people who spoke up or were different in this country. I thought I could hide behind my advanced degrees, my set of privileges, and fancy friends who worked to actively avoid tough conversations and topics that brought them “down” like racism.
“Black lives matter, that’s a controversial statement. Matters. Just Matters. That’s where we are starting the negotiations, maters. And we can’t agree on [that]? What the heck is less than matters? Black lives exist?” – Comedian Michael Che
I feel like I’ve been lost for a while. I lost hope and turned to things I felt were within my power – to conform as much as possible and to ignore the pain that I and others felt in society. I have numbed myself into thinking that everything was okay.
But after I watched Just Mercy, I could no longer ignore that small, but persistent gnawing inside of me, the guilt, the anger, my silence. I don’t believe I’m alone, I believe that this is much of America. As a people, we spend aimless hours trying to numb, to ignore, and feel like everything is fine…when our insides eat away at us when we hear news of individuals like George Floyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, and so many more that should have never been on this list of casualties.
But now I know that my silence along with that of others has killed. It has perpetuated and only widened the pit of racism that now exists and festers. But this is not the end of the story. If we continue to allow our fear to dictate our voice, we will forever be silenced.
“Don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” – Michelle Obama
The George Floyd protests and the upheaval it has caused nationwide and globally is one of the desperately needed displays of strength and strands of HOPE. And we desperately need hope, hope that we can change a system so there are no more George Floyds, and hope to keep fighting. Because we are far from done. The protests, the film Just Mercy are a few avenues that force us to acknowledge our complicity in the systematic racism against the Black Community and bring us to the breaking point where we need to actively learn and support the Black Community through education, finance, and a voice.
Just Mercy is the movie we need. We need to keep our eyes open and alert. We need to learn and make our voices heard – even if it’s in a small way. The movie is captivating, devastating, and honest. And its the truth of what’s happening in our nation, in our world. We need to educate ourselves and react.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you do know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou
Just Mercy is free to stream through the month of June.
Below you’ll find some resources to educate, equip, and take action:
For those who want to provide more immediate support, one of the most direct ways to do so is monetarily. The links below highlight several local and national organizations that are fighting for justice and equality:
- Minnesota Freedom Fund
- Black Lives Matter
- List of organizations [supporting protesters in every city]
- Volunteer through Backpac.co
You can also find Black-owned businesses and restaurants to support in your community through these links:
- https://shoppeblack.us/ (Search for your city to find local businesses or by topic for online)
- Black Owned Restaurants(or google “black-owned restaurant [city]” — many cities have individual listings)
- Black-owned bookstore focused on the black experience with a list of helpful books on how to be a non-black ally