The picture above is not a picture of me. I’m a chubby, grey haired white grandma. The picture above is not one of my sweet grandchildren. They are three little white kids, with white skin.
But these two are the people on my mind today. Everyone who shares the same tone of skin has been on my mind. Every fellow citizen of mine who shares the same curly hair has been on my mind. Every American who wakes up in the morning as part of what I’ve grown up thinking of as “the minority community”, that’s who is on my mind.
Last night I watched the news. I saw people marching, shouting, protesting in the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul. I saw fire and tear gas and glass breaking.
“Oh, no,” was my first thought. “Oh, no.”
I’ve seen this scene before. I’ve seen an unarmed black American dying at the hands of an American police officer or at the hands of a self-appointed patriotic vigilante. I know what happens. It’s a repeating playbook. At first white America reacts with outrage at the death. We shake our heads and tell ourselves with great sincerity that “something must change.”
Then the friends, neighbors and family of the dead black American take to the street. They are joined by other angry, horrified, sad, terrified black Americans. They are loud. They are profane. Someone throws a rock, and tear gas flies. A fire is set, a building it breached, people take things, damage is done.
And the reaction, every damn time, is “I understand that rage, but rioting is not the way to make change.”
I’m a nice, middle class retired teacher lady living in a small, rural town. I don’t think burning buildings is a good idea. I don’t think that violence is a healthy choice.
But as I lay awake in my bed last night, I tossed and I turned and I pictured beautiful young Americans like the two pictured above. And I asked myself,
“If violence isn’t the right path, then what is?”
Should our black fellow citizens stage sit-ins in public places? Just some quiet, passive actions to show that people are unhappy?
I realized that those actions have already been taken. Some half a century ago, brown skinned Americans sat down on busses and at restaurants and in public offices to show that they wanted to be treated equally. That held sit-ins. They were entirely peaceful, even when they were dragged to jail.
Black Americans are still being murdered in public by the police and those who wish they were police. So that technique doesn’t work.
Maybe, I thought, we should find some highly educated, highly successful, brilliant brown skinned fellow citizens to speak up and express the unfairness of our racial situation.
Ah, but that, too has been done. Over and over and over again. Martin King, Malcolm X, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, Angela Davis, Medgar Evers, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and on and on and on. Great artists, great leaders, great orators, true American treasures.
But dark skin can still get an unarmed American shot to death for jogging.
So what could our African American brothers and sisters do to express their pain? We don’t want violence, but….what?
Remember when this young athlete decided to peacefully and silently protest the deaths of so many black Americans?
I do. I remember the reaction when he knelt during the National Anthem. The President of these United States of America went public in his attacks. He said that the football player should have been suspended for quietly protesting the deaths of his fellow Americans. The Vice President walked out of a football game when Colin and some of his teammates knelt in gentle protest.
Peaceful protest has achieved…..nothing.
There were “Black Lives Matter” marches and signs and protests. The answer was a rush of “Oh, yeah? Well, Blue lives matter!” and “All lives matter!” Both of which completely missed the point, and neither of which did anything to stop the flow of blood on our streets.
George Floyd was still murdered right there in broad daylight on an American street, surrounded by American citizens who watched in horror as his life was snuffed out by an American white guy in an official uniform.
I tossed last night, and I turned. I found no answers.
I don’t know what it will finally take for this country to break out of its racist history and begin to move forward toward a just and loving place where every single American life is treasured and valued and protected.
I pulled the sheet up over my shoulders last night, looking for some comfort on that steamy night.
Suddenly I saw the face of Tamir Rice in front of me. I saw his smiling, little boy face. I thought about my white sons playing guns one sunny day at Universal Studios, with none of us giving it a thought.
I saw the face of Treyvon Martin, walking on a rainy night with a pocket full of skittles. I thought about the days when my teenaged boys and their white friends would walk the streets of our little town at all hours of the night, and how once in a while the police would pull up beside them and urge to go on home to bed.
I thought about how I’d feel if they had been killed. I thought about how I might feel if I’d spent my lifetime asking, begging, praying and working for justice for people who look like my children.
And I realized that if I had done all that, and yet my sons, my nephews, my friends, my neighbors were still being recklessly killed while jogging, shopping, sleeping, sitting in a car or committing a misdemeanor?
Well. You can be sure that even with my creaky joints and fading eyes, my grayhair and my wrinkles, I would absolutely, positively march my old white ass out there and set the world on fire.
No justice? No peace.