It’s been a helluva year so far. This last week brought all of the seething emotions to the surface. My fair city of Minneapolis’ golden shiny halo fell further from its lofty perch down into the greatest depths of tarnish and disgrace. Minneapolis made national news for the unconscionable death of George Floyd at the hands of local police officer, Derek Chauvin. I do not usually get political on this site, but this week there is no avoiding the subject and its overwhelming impact.
I can’t possibly know
I live in the suburbs of Minneapolis. It would be difficult to get much whiter than myself and my family. I am fairly aware of the privileged bubble we live in. I’m becoming more willing to enter difficult conversations to gain even more awareness.
Language of the unheard
As I write, the police department that employed the four police officers involved with Mr. Floyd’s death, smolders. Protesters stormed it overnight and set fire to it. Admittedly, most of the time I do not understand or accept retaliatory violence such as rioting, looting or setting buildings on fire. My family owned an ice cream store that burned down. I have deep strong feelings about destroying other people’s property. Most days it does not make sense in my book to match violence with violence, but today, I see the rage and have the tiniest understanding of its need to inflict pain. I could never put myself fully into the shoes of a black individual, but not being seen and heard, for over 400 years, is rage worthy. Watching yet another black person die due to overuse of force by a police officer, is rage worthy.
Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Stanford University 1967
Coincidentally, over the last two weeks I have been part of a book study cohort discussing Dolly Chugh’s book, The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias. The book focuses on implicit biases, ordinary privilege and taking action to be, at the very least, a good-ish person. Dr. Chugh describes a good-ish person as being someone who not only has beliefs of equity but is willing to learn, make mistakes, speak up and take steps to influence others and create a more equitable community. It is not enough to silently believe all humans matter equally but it is OK to be imperfect in our endeavors to do something about our ignorance.
The truth hurts
Through our group discussion, led by the only person of color in the cohort, we awkwardly conversed about potentially offending people different from us, admitting our family members can be insecure and ignorant, feeling guilty for our privilege and admitting we have a lot to learn. We took bias tests here: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html. I learned that I have moderate biases when it comes to race and strong biases when it comes to gender and careers. Apparently, I believe men are more built for careers and women belong with family. I’m digging into both of those psychologically and spiritually now. I have work to do.
We are all baked in systemic biases. We cannot slough them off like dead skin. They surround us and stay with us, all of us. What we can do is increase our awareness of them and allow that awareness to affect our decisions and behavior. We can also influence our children to be better, less prejudiced than us.
Use our influence
One of the many takeaways I found in The Person You Mean to Be is that it easier and more effective for us to influence people in our own group. For example, if a white woman points out to a white cashier that she unfairly asked a black woman for proof of ID when writing a check but did not ask for ID from a white shopper, the white cashier is more likely to take the white woman’s words seriously and react with less animosity. If the black woman shopper pointed out the injustice, unfortunately she is seen as “the angry black woman”, always complaining. They have done studies proving this power of like-group persuasion. So instead of turning to our “black friend” to explain to our white slightly racist uncle why his Facebook comment was inappropriate, it would do more good to offer him an explanation ourselves (if we are also white).
So I am using my white privileged influence to request that before we judge the reactions the community is having about the death of George Floyd, we should consider what it would feel like to feel that maligned, betrayed and unheard. And then instead of wishing for tranquility again, take some action to stop the postponement of justice.
Former officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with murder as I wrote this. It’s a start.
I’m hoping to find further action I can take to increase justice. I’m having difficult conversations with family and friends. I may peacefully protest. How could you increase your awareness?
What is your persepective? What is a different perspective you could consider?