On Tuesday June 2nd, at 11:00 am there was a rally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. It came quickly after the murder of George Floyd, a Black African-American man who died in the hands of police.
I watched the video. It. Broke. My. Heart.
All 50 states plus eighteen countries participated in a variety of protests and rallies making this the largest civil rights movement in world history. Good. About time.
The rally was held in front of the Legislative Building in our city. The social media post reminded us that this was a peaceful demonstration and that any negative/aggressive/violent behavior would not be tolerated.
I went. I had to. I went alone. It wasn’t a thing I needed company for.
There was a good crowd with people of color, Caucasians, Indigenous people and people of all ages. The thing that united us all is that we all stand for the fair treatment of people, equality, justice and freedom.
I made my way to the middle of the crowd. More speakers shared their stories and their support to fix this systemic tragedy.
Each of us, responsible
I felt incredibly moved from a place deeper than “I’m just sad for POC.” I found myself breathing through it, letting myself feel it. The feeling was mine but also the energy of the event and the power of many people wanting to do something right. There is power in that. And you can’t tell me there isn’t. Have you ever been to a live concert compared to listening to music on your couch? Yes. Strength in numbers.
Eventually, a speaker asked us if we were able to please take a knee while they read the names of people who have lost their lives.
I did. And while I was down there, head bowed, I listened and again that thick feeling in my chest rose up. I stayed down there until we were instructed to stand. Was it hard on my knees? No. Was it easy? Also, no. But, somehow I thought about the smallness of this gesture compared to what POC have to endure.
I eventually left the rally and crossed the main street. I saw a policeman tucked away in his cruiser. I wonder how many were strategically placed around the park in case some ill intending person started something bad. I smiled at him. He smiled back. No threat. I’m lucky.
On my walk home I thought about all the black students, students of visible minority and indigenous students I have taught in over twenty years. I thought about how I treat them. I wonder if I am sensitive to their needs. I thought about if they ever felt singled out because of how they looked. I wondered if I did a good job in being inclusive. I also thought about how they perceived me and my whiteness.
Then I stepped away from my class lists and thought about my friends. How many people of color are my friends? How many of my friends are married to people of color? How diverse is my social circle? How have I responded to people of color who I know—better yet how do I respond to people of color that I don’t know?
Asking a friend
I have a friend in South Carolina. He’s black. He’s a jolly man with a super easy going way. He loves his garden and he’s a vegan. A gentle soul. I asked him how he was doing, in the thick of things and he replied:
You know, I read your message and had to go take a shower just so I could gather my thoughts. I wish there were more people like you. But truthfully, there’s nothing I can tell you. Words only describe and words only guide your eyes to your emotions. You have to be black. Being is knowing. I can say that I’ve never encountered any face to face racism. Most of mine (I believe) were from not getting the opportunity or chance in some situations. But you move on. See, being black is mostly about moving on. Finding your peaceful place and settling in. I can’t go into it because there are so many layers. The shadow that follows me is that my kids are black, my son, is especially concerning, but also my girls. I’ll be getting old and one day leaving here. Leaving them alone. That’s every black parent’s nightmare that they live every second of their lives.
So living isn’t just getting an education, finding a dream job, buying a home, getting married, kids. It’s actually trying to live mistake free. There are so many obstacles. I feel like I have to keep my head on a swivel when I leave my peaceful home.
Let those words above sink in: missing opportunities, fear for your children every second of your life, living mistake free. LIVING WITH YOUR HEAD ON A SWIVEL WHEN YOU LEAVE HOME.
I told him I was going to the rally and he said I was the best. But it felt like the smallest thing I could do. He went on to say:
Have you ever seen a black movie set way back in the day, where the husband or the kids leave home and the mom or the wife say “be safe, I’ll be waiting for you, love you” well…that’s part of every day since I can remember. And it’s not because you’re going out to be foolish. It’s because there’s always someone out there that’s foolish because you look different. That’s why you keep your head on a swivel.
He can’t change his skin color, can he? But he did very bravely disclose his experience to his white friend north of the border for some attempt at understanding what it’s like to be in his shoes. I thank him for his very honest and trusting response to my message. I would also like to add that his colour or struggles have never come up, ever, in our dialogues. This is the first time he has said anything because I asked.
Maybe we should ask more often. Maybe we should put it out there: friend, what have you been through?
This road to equality is long but it should be paved with empathy, compassion, justice, understanding and love. I can’t be black but I can be kind.