I have spent a lot of time over this last week or so sorting out my feelings and figuring out what to say in regards to Black Lives Matter and the current protests surrounding George Floyd’s death. I have had many conversations with people on all ends of the spectrum, from all walks of life and I want to say that I have heard you. That being said, I have come to two conclusions. 1) the loss of life is tragic and should be recognized as such. 2) racism, much like coronavirus, is alive and well and just because we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it has disappeared.
I identify with many groups that sometimes have seemingly conflicting views, which has made my life more interesting to say the least. I grew up in a law enforcement household, have many friends and family members that currently work in law enforcement or the military, but I for the time being work in the entertainment industry. I am a millenial, but the majority of my friends can be found in Gen X or above. I am white, but I attend a predominantly black church where I have known the pastors and many of the members for almost ten years. This is not to say I deserve a pat on the back or any kind of accolade (yay, white people can be good – please hear the sarcasm in that), this is to just give context. I want to state also that I am not color blind, I see their skin and they see mine and we know that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Our identities are not found in our melanin count nor our jobs or socioeconomic status, but in our humanity and shared belief in God. We sing songs of worship, read the bible and just spend time together enjoying one another’s presence.
They are my family, my ohana. To quote the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch, “Ohana means family. And family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” NOBODY gets left behind or forgotten. Nobody gets LEFT BEHIND or forgotten. If I see my family falling behind, I go back and get them. I help them catch up. I let them lean on me if they are tired because they are my family and I love them. And they would do the same for me if I needed it. This week, I have felt the pain of my family.
We are so good at dehumanizing our perceived enemy, or really anyone who doesn’t agree with our beliefs. On a global level, it looks like: “kill all the [insert nationality here] because they attacked us/threatened our freedom”, which may be partially true in that we may have been attacked by another nation, but my neighbor who I’ve personally known for 20 years doesn’t deserve to be punched in the face for leaving their country of origin and moving to a new country and being my friend for 20 years just because they are one of those people. On a more personal level, dehumanization looks like this: a friend of yours did something to hurt you so now they are dead to you, you don’t talk, you turn a deaf ear to their apology, talk crap behind their back, hope they die and laugh when you read on social media that they received a terminal diagnosis because “Karen got what was coming to her!” Mind you, Karen used to be your friend, and if she still was your friend and you found this information out you would be devastated, but your anger has driven you to the point of being desensitized and no longer seeing value in Karen’s life. She is less than and therefore no longer deserving of compassion, love, or the basic human right to life, let alone liberty or the pursuit of happiness. Because Karen is a BLANK, all BLANKS are BLANK, so she is a BLANK.
ALL BLANKS ARE BLANK. It is a simple enough statement to make and if said enough times, that statement can become a belief. All whites are… All blacks are… all cops are… They are statements I have heard many times over my 30 years on this earth, so I imagine you too have heard them at least once. Those blanket statements are designed to make us stop seeing a person as a person and start seeing them as a BLANK.
When we stop dehumanizing each other and begin to value each life (and please hear me out before jumping on the all lives matter hater train, that’s not where I’m going with this), when we find value in each individual’s life, then we can begin to see our brothers and sisters who are hurting and empathize with them. We can begin to be motivated by our shared pain and want to make a difference in the world around us. When each individual’s life matters, then it matters when one life is taken away, regardless of their race, beliefs or occupation. When life matters, when we are no longer desensitized to killing and violence and hate filled language, when we allow our hearts to become sensitized to the hopes and dreams, but also to the pains and losses of those around us and allow that sensitivity to drive change, then we can say we have begun to heal the hurt and change for the better.
We talk about the system being broken and needing to change, but have we forgotten that people, individuals that have been elected or placed in power, are the ones who put those systems in place? Changing the government or changing an organization means changing the people that make up said government or organization. Sometimes that looks like voting different people into office or hiring new people to be in positions of power. Sometimes that looks like providing education and tools to change the individual’s views and/or skill sets. What I am seeing though extends beyond governments and organizations. It is everyone’s issue, present company included. We are the human race, and we are all affected by what is going on.
We are currently living through a time like no other. In less than six months, we have seen the death of a legend, a global pandemic (that has yet to end), murder hornets, protests over systemic racism, riots, looting, earthquakes, and zombie fires (I’m not making that last one up, just google it). We are only in the month of June and already so much has happened. This year is one for the history books. So ask yourself, which side of history do you want to be on?