With the recent shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling still looming in our consciousness like humid air, making it hard to breathe, I find myself walking deliberately and forthrightly into the same wall with several peers who still refuse to believe that we have a problem.
“Just obey the cops and they won’t beat you up, it’s that simple.”
“So we should just ignore that he had a criminal record?”
Or better yet, “the camera became dislodged so there’s no way to really know what happened.”
Each time I hear these objections I get this tightness in my chest, a mixture of revulsion, grief, and a growing sense of ominousness. Because when injustices get reduced to soundbites, humanity and irreverence become increasingly synonymous.
It’s easy to internalize that empathy is dying, camaraderie is inconvenient, and support is reckless. But the worst part is that the vilifying is so utterly misdirected. We are beleaguering ourselves with this carnage over crumbs as the system haughtily saunters away with the loaf of bread we could have shared.
Even though millions of us are exhausted by the binary rhetoric; it continues to infiltrate everything until the populism begets such division, we no longer remember the feeling of whole shoulders. We look on as Silence and Inaction continue to push Better Judgment aside, allowing Hate and Prejudice to commandeer the mic. And yet, despite my frustration with so many people who share my pigment, I’m still abundantly hopeful.
Earlier this year I listened to activist and writer Saun King speak at the University of Rochester’s Diversity Conference. He spoke about how, “the quality of our humanity, instead of looking like a steady growth chart, looks more like a roller coaster. Sometimes we, as a people, treat one another in beautiful ways. We address our core problems, we avoid war, and act like generally civilized creatures. At other points in human history, we appear to abandon all principle, and devolve into something altogether ugly. These periods, like the one we’re experiencing, are called dips.”
If you have never attended a social justice rally I suggest you find the closest one to you and sign up immediately. But sign up for something that you think has nothing to do with you:
-If you’re straight, stand for the LGBTQ community
-If you’re white, stand against racial inequality
-If you’re a citizen, fight for the rights of immigrants
The reason I say that is because rallies are rife with opportunity to connect to those with whom you might not normally interact. There’s a unique atmosphere, not unlike the unabashed friendliness of drunk strangers at parties.
Yesterday I walked in solidarity with Wilmington community members to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Everyone, (black/white/brown) was bolstered at the sight of so many unfamiliar faces lining up to link arms down the street in support of the same cause.
Too often we’re made to believe that hate and fear hold more power than empathy and unity. But that’s only because we’ve devoted too much time practicing the former and not honing the latter.
Rising from this dip begins with advocacy, and it’s sustained through exposure and education. Ignorance is not an excuse to be hateful, but it is still a symptom of a much larger issue that needs to be addressed. If you don’t think you’re brave enough just yet to physically stand for something, there are other ways you can help:
-If you hear a racist joke, don’t laugh along, call the person out.
-If someone hands you a petition, just sign it. I guarantee whatever they’re fighting for doesn’t cost you a thing to support.
-Make people question values that only serve to restrict others.
-Ask questions that encourage empathetic thinking.
-Share knowledge broadly and intently until exposure blankets any opportunity for misunderstanding.
Most importantly, be flexible in your approach, but unapologetic in your conviction. We may be in a dip, but it doesn’t have to be a plateau.