First, I must state for those of you who do not know me: I’m white. I’ve lived in a middle class setting for most of my life, and for many reasons, I’ve struggled in that life. But I cannot even begin to comprehend the discrimination, hatred, and racism the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) have endured over the past several hundred years. My point in this post is to equate a striking revelation I had while out on the street today. It’s not meant to ignore the situation, but it’s about how we, as a society, have become cavalier about racial bias in this country. Most importantly, it’s not enough.
Silent solidarity isn’t going to cut it anymore.
We need to enact change so that our “new normal” post-COVID includes a revolution on how we treat the BIPOC.
On the street today, a woman in yoga pants and a sports bra chatted with two men on the street. Her husky laid at her feet, with striking blue eyes, panting happily in the shade. They likely went for a run, and the poor pup sure needed the rest. I didn’t hear the specifics of the conversation, but it was one of a friendly manner. They spoke in length about something. They all shared a smile as they chatted. They candor was that of people on the same level.
The two men were homeless.
I was enamored with her level of human connection. She did something that the majority of people in Los Angeles never do. Interact with the homeless. And I don’t mean simply dropping a loose, crumpled George Washington into their jars or cupped hands. She was communicating with them like they were old friends. Her husky sat between them, very close to the homeless men, without an ounce of fear or hesitation. They were all comfortable.
That’s when it hit me: Why was this so surprising? Why did a simple act of humanity, of kindness, illicit a surprised reaction from me? And why was something so devastating and infuriating as murder so commonplace in this country, that we, as a collective white society, rarely bat an eye past the week of the incident? It’s simple: Many people are too afraid to empathize with that with which we don’t understand. They feel lost, powerless, and unable to bear the brunt of the emotional weight of our country’s many faults. So we share a post supporting equal rights, announcing ourselves as an “ally,” or forwarding a powerful message of hope; the arrow of a single voice, into the impenetrable wall of hatred and inaction. But they’re not working.
Sure, it feels like too much sometimes, but just imagine how it feels to be in someone else’s shoes. For example, when someone is diagnosed with an ailment, like Michael J. Fox and Parkinson’s Disease, or myself with Leukemia, it shines a light on the hardships that those people have to face on a day-to-day basis, and the survivors, (the “healed” in my case), are compelled to take action. Michael has done far more than I have so far, but the need to help others is always present in my mind.
But no one can diagnose you with being black. You either are or you aren’t. So as white folks, we don’t see how the black community (and other people falling into the BIPOC distinction) have to live their lives on a day-to-day basis.
I’m not trying to equate the ill or the homeless to the discrimination of BIPOC (although, some often view the last two similarly; “lesser than human”). And I’m aware that trying to rationalize a situation by comparing it to another, unrelated situation is not only a futile gesture, but also a tactic of diversion. What I’m doing is trying to prove a point.
Today, on the street, I should have NOT been surprised by someone offering another person the chance to feel like a human being. And in today’s world, I SHOULD NOT have to feel that the endless deaths of black individuals is commonplace. (It’s the same feeling people have when they’re inundated with news stories of school/public venue shootings.) Violence in America should not be at the level it is currently. I should see a death on the news as an event so fucking rare, that I have to stop and ponder, and empathize with the people involved. I should stop on the street like in a cliché movie and watch a horrific death on a bank of CRTs, gathered near others who equally share in my pain and frustration. (IF I had to see it AT ALL). Instead, the two emotions – the shock and empathy – should be swapped.
I should see kindness to others as commonplace; a part of my society that is not only welcomed but secondhand. And I should see the horrific violence of bigotry and fear, as a once-in-a-million chance. Something so rare, that it makes me stop and think. And then write a blog post about it.
That’s the world I want to live in.
In memory of George Floyd, Amaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the hundreds of thousands that we will never see.
P.S. Yes, this post was directed towards the white populous. That’s because the BIPOC do not need to be taught of those who hate, fear, and hold them down. They are painfully aware of every single glare, every ringing gunshot, and every painful knee.
I initially didn’t want to write about the racism in America – not because I didn’t want to act – but because I was afraid of how people would see a white Frenchman (who grew up in a predominantly white Northern Maine town) writing about racism in America. “How can he even begin to know what it’s like?” They might say.
I used to be afraid of that. But I can’t NOT act. Not anymore. We need to enact real change. We need to look within to ask ourselves: If we were in their shoes, would we feel the same way? If we were in their shoes, would we protest and mourn rather than scroll further down the feed? And why the fuck, does it matter if we are in their shoes or not? We are all human, and we all deserve a fair shot at our very short lives.