“Retribution haunts everyone, but catches up only the few.”~ Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach.
I admit I was naïve. I blame Jamaica. I had grown up as a white girl surrounded by a population whose motto is ‘Out of many, one people.’ The majority of Jamaicans are descended from the enslaved Africans who were brought to the shores by Europeans. Those Europeans eradicated the original land-owners (Taino, Arawaks and Caribs). Over the years there was the forced co-mingling as the white land-owners took advantage over those they owned. After emancipation boatloads of indentured workers arrived from India, from Ireland and eventually immigrants from China, Lebanon and Germany moved in and to greater or lesser extent mixed and added to the beauty and variety of the average ‘Jamaican’. In any crowd (or any family) you will see evidence of pure Mother Africa, straight up Caucasian and more, along with any combination of all of the above.
In my eyes I was surrounded by beautiful people, a people who had style, arrogance, pride, a wicked sense of humor, and a great generosity towards any visitors to their country. I was adopted, absorbed, and allowed to feel as Jamaican as anyone else, even though I was not a ‘bawn Jamaican.’ So when I moved to the USA in 1978 I was naïve enough to think that moving in with my Jamaican boyfriend, a man who soul was pure African but whose outward appearance suggested that he had more than a ‘touch’ of European in his blood-line, was no big deal.
We had very little disposable income, way back then. Living on one pay-check and the little money I had saved meant we didn’t go out much. It wasn’t until a year or so later, when we traveled to Jacksonville for me to take my State Boards (back in the day, to become a registered nurse you had to sit an exam in one of possibly three locations in Florida), that I felt the full force of racist white America in the glare of a white man as we sat at the traffic lights. I made sure my door was locked.
I soon learned to pick my white friends carefully. What was amusing was when co-workers (not those I counted as friends) would suddenly realize that I was married to a black man. I would see them stop in their tracks, their mind racing backwards to try and remember if they had ever said anything racist in my presence. They would then be mad at me for not having been more open in earlier conversations so they could have censored themselves. Or at least that was how I interpreted their non-spoken body language, their later avoidance of casual conversation with me.
It has been fascinating over the past weeks watching white America go through those same reactions. All around the world you can see people stop and rewind, and then in shocked recognition, reboot. All of a sudden there is the acknowledgment of guilt, the realization, and down come the statues, down come the flags, out come the conscious movies streaming free on Netflix. All of a sudden empathy and understanding are appearing, having been conspicuously absent for so long.
Don’t get me wrong. It is about time sins were acknowledged and actions corrected. After all, nothing changes until it is confronted. I heard the other day that we need to ‘label things’ in order to begin to change them. But there also needs to be a recognition that superficial fixes and temporary shocked outrage will be as cruel and dangerous as the centuries of injustice if they are not backed up by action, by the correction of a corrupt system that exploits our differences and capitalizes on the oppression of the poor, the unseen.
I read an article the other day, written tongue-in-cheek, thanking our great leader for all the gifts he has given the citizens of the US. And I realized that we should indeed be grateful. For under his divisive rhetoric, his inflaming of ancient (some thought extinct) resentment and racial bigotry, he has lanced the deep abscess of racism. But instead of seeing a deeper divide we are hearing one voice, one cry, one united crowd popping up from Arkansas to Alaska, across Europe and around the globe. We are seeing old and young, black and white marching day after day, night after night. And even the cynical, burned out pundits are daring to sound a little hopeful that we are seeing a culture shift, an about turn, something that cannot be ignored.
But, white people, do not get lulled into a feel-good moment, a photo opportunity that lets you off the hook. Toppling confederate statues is symbolic, but it does not ensure that young black men can go to the corner store without fear. It does not undo the systemic policies that ensured that your destiny was tied to your skin color and zip code. Like Bob Marley said, ‘you think it’s the end, but it’s just the beginning.’
When I read the slogan ‘defund the police’ I had to google it. And like many catchy slogans it hides so much more. It means the deep redesign of community, the introduction of resources and disciplines that can address social wrongs with counsellors, social workers, job opportunities, redevelopment plans, a range of changes that have been studied and piloted and shown to be effective. Universities and communities have researched this for years. There are evidence-based practices that have been implemented and shown to be effective. We do not have to reinvent the wheel, but we do have to reinvent our attitudes, our expectations.
This Friday morning we cry for those we have lost, whether to white brutality or health disparities that have left an unfair burden on communities of color. We rage against the injustices perpetrated for centuries by those in power. We pray for real change, a paradigm shift that allows us to reimagine a world where (as Martin said) all people can live as equals. And for those white people who have been blindsided by events, thinking that they didn’t have a racist bone in their body, please just shut up and listen. This is a time for humility, for recognition that whether you knew it or not, you (we) have benefitted from a system that has kept its knee on the neck of people of color for centuries. So don’t be shocked at the rage, the impatience as finally Marcus Garvey’s words come to pass, and he cheers them on: “Up you mighty race, accomplish what you will.”
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!