“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” ~ Denis Waitley.
Whenever I hear three stories on the same theme, I know this is a topic to write on. Unfortunately, I have already forgotten one of them! It is only recently that I have tried to write things down, to have ‘to-do’ lists, to not expect that I will remember everything. But this week everything has been overshadowed by the guilty verdict in the murder of George Floyd (#saytheirnames).
Last weekend I watched a movie, a love story set in the late 50’s to early 60’s. It was set in New York and most of the characters were black. The woman came from an uptown, wealthy family and her love interest was a poor, struggling musician. But the woman aspired to work in television, to be a producer of TV shows. The line that stuck out for me was when she was observing a white woman, the star of the TV show she was working on, telling dirty jokes to a group of men. She turned to her boss (a black woman) and said, ‘can you ever imagine being that free?’
The next day I was listening to my main inspiration, National Public Radio, and they were interviewing a black author. I was driving at the time and didn’t catch his name but I believe he is British, of African ancestry. He was describing the particular challenge of being black in a majority white country. He described the natural tendency of the African to live his interior life exteriorly. By that he meant that the black man or woman tends show their emotions: joy; pain; love of music; enjoyment of food; laughter; sadness; love; all of life’s experiences are met with gusto. They allow their interior perceptions to be worn externally. I hope he will forgive me – perhaps I have not expressed his thoughts too well.
But the black man who lives in a country as a minority, has to learn to tamp down these reactions; to censor his expressions; to make sure that his responses to life are tolerable and palatable to those who observe him. Lest they offend, scare, trigger, or otherwise challenge the status quo.
We all have to control our emotional responses in public to a greater or lesser extent. In polite society we learn to filter our first thoughts so as not to hurt the feelings of others; we are considerate of those around us. But that is different from having to live your life always turning down your emotional volume, keeping your interiority well hidden.
There was a third story along these lines, but it was one that I heard some years ago, after the Ferguson outcry following the death of Michael Brown seven years ago. A lady from the community was interviewed and she was describing how tired she was of having to watch how she behaved around the police, making sure she responded politely, didn’t say anything to offend etc. She said that if doing all those things still resulted in being shot, then she may as well be “as blackety-black as I wanna be!”
One of the arrogances of white privilege is the assumption that we know what it is like to be black in America. My upbringing in the heart of Jamaica allowed me to observe, to listen, to learn and respect the history and culture of the African descendants (mixed with that diverse mix of Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern and European), and to recognize the role of Colonialism and oppression in the development of a society. Moving to the US in the seventies gave me a different education as I saw the continued effects of slavery and segregation on those descendants who were left in America.
Many years ago I first heard the joke about the word ‘assume’ – it makes an ‘ass’ of ‘you’ and ‘me’. But it is indeed a dangerous concept, to make assumptions. It makes no allowance for things to be other than what we make them to be. They say if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans. Assuming that we have control of our future is a dangerous assumption indeed. But assuming we can know the life of another, that is arrogance.
It was good to see that a jury today can listen to the evidence and find a policeman guilty of murder. But nobody that I know assumed that the verdict was assured. Round the corner from the trial, another mother could not assume that her son could have a contentious interaction with the police and come home alive. Where is the training in de-escalation, to balance the reactive deadly force that seems so easy to apply? Will this truly be the ‘inflection point’ the pundits describe? Will this result in true change?
I have been given a particular responsibility in this world, to try to be a bridge between communities, between races, between cultures. I hope I am able in some way to affect the way we see each other, the way we live in this world. As we have watched our society become more polarized, as we have heard the rhetoric of hate pouring fuel on our differences, it has become clear that now more than ever we need to find our common ground and respect each other.
This Friday morning, I hope you can challenge some of your own assumptions, and imagine a world in which we are all free to be, free to be ourselves. I hope we are all able to channel our pain into real change, a world where everyone’s humanity is valued. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!