Questioning what you've been taught: How short-circuiting bad wiring can help you become anti-racist
I attended a Black Lives Matter protest in St. Charles, Illinois, last week, my first but certainly not my last. Gathering with like minds in a setting eager to learn and change and grow is quite profound. It creates a real glimpse of hope despite the hateful dark world we live in.
My heart was destroyed when I heard George Floyd say "mama”. If anyone one group on earth embodies the definition of “to serve and protect” is mothers. A sign at a recent protest displayed:
“All mothers were summoned when George Floyd called out for his mama.”
As we sat in the park listening to George gasp and plead for help, I closed my eyes and felt the terror in his voice. He called for his mother and I felt tingling in my throat like I was going to throw up. Pictures of my own son flashed through my mind, and I sat there crying, willing someone to tackle the officer and make all of this stop.
“Oh my God,” I whispered to myself through my face mask, my own hot breath choking me as I sat in the grass rocking back and forth. This man, this man, who could be my brother, my neighbor, my cousin, my kid’s teacher, my pastor – he’s begging for help and I’m listening to him die.
I watched a mother lead her daughter away from the protest, the little girl crying from the sounds of what she’s heard and again, I was hit in the heart. This small child understood the enormity of what she heard while grown adults brush it under the rug and minimize the taking of this man’s life.
I quickly turned angry as I listened to George gasp over and over again “please, please, please” – the gasping makes me physically ill to listen to and I clench my fists and feel my head about to burst.
“Why?” I hiss to myself, “Why won’t anyone help him?”
“They’re gonna kill me,” George says.
I plugged my ears, I had to because I felt myself about to scream out into the silent crowd. I went through a list of the people in my life who I could envision in this position. Friends and cousins, neighbors, acquaintances even – nobody on the face of this earth deserves what George endured for 10 seconds let alone almost nine minutes.
I cursed that police officer, Derek Chauvin, under my breath and every officer that did not tear him down to save George Floyd. I cursed him again and again and realized if my baby, my son was tormented, tortured and cast aside like a piece of garbage I, too, would raise hell to defend him. Processing that kind of horror as a mother, witnessing the flippant attitude towards a human life – your own son’s human life – would send me over the edge of reason and sanity.
There’s no telling what I would do.
If we’re honest about American history, my white ancestors founded this country to flee from religious oppression and then, turned to abuse groups of people they deemed inferior.
That mindset, riddled and grounded in hate, privilege, and bias, was a product of “old wiring” and for many of us, that’s not who we are as a people anymore. The “old wiring” is finally short-circuiting.
If I want to see a radical shift in the world, change must start with me. There’s a group of human beings full of love who are not willing to stand by and let hate reign in any capacity.
To see this change, I have to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations and call out bigots and hatred. Even if that ignorance comes from within my family or within myself. It starts with everyday things, the comments, the jokes, the seeming “little” things that are not so little to some. The knee-jerk reactions, the gossip, the injustice.
I’ve witnessed unjust assumption as a young black man was tackled to the ground amid a crowd of white people in a bar shooting. As a group of us shouted, “he didn’t do anything!” to the police, and we were told to be quiet.
I listen to black mothers and the mothers of black children tell me of the constant fear they live in, always on guard the moment they or their kids step out of the house for the day.
And if I sit back and really think about all the subtle suppressions I’ve witnessed or heard of by friends of color, I’m dizzy over the trauma they endure on a daily basis. And that’s exactly what it is – TRAUMA. Sitting anxiously in fight or flight mode every second of every day is damaging. I’m personally in therapy to discover how I can re-wire my own mindset to move past living in my own version of fear, yet it’s nothing compared to generations of trauma, passed down and violently thriving in people of color. We must be finished with the old wiring, evolve and change into a mindset of equality, acceptance, and human decency.
How do we even move forward from here? Entering stage three of reopening the state I live in seems trivial at best as we revert back to documenting the “irritating” moments of our day, stupid facepalm moments, and pretend our influential social posts will make a difference in the lives of others with quotes and #bestlife hashtags. As the headlines fade away, the media will want us to forget.
But I can’t.