As a StartingBloc Fellow, I sat in sessions less than one year ago and heard how the racism, marginalization, and outright criminal behavior of some members of our communities who were initially trusted to serve and protect went horribly wrong.
As a person who has an ambiguous look to them, I have been on the receiving end of hearing how “privileged I am as a white woman in this country” and also been asked as I stood in the store I co-owned holding a broom, “Can you tell me if the owner is in?”. I have had a person of color tell me I was racist because we put the wrong date on a printed ribbon and could not move fast enough for her when we said we would redo all 30 favors.
I have been in a McDonald’s when someone has randomly said that the white people standing there were the cause of the latest attack on a person of color, only to walk out of that store and be stared down by the police sitting in a patrol car outside the place.
When I was in high school, I was told by an NYPD officer that if I ever dared to walk away from one, I would be “shot in the back”. Just the thing that would leave an impression on a 15-year-old – one who was terrified of everything and just walked where you were not supposed to.
Yet, I took the Entrance Exam for the NYPD ten years after that incident. I was told by the officer proctoring the test that day that this was not the job for me after he grabbed my hand and read the side of my school ring – “MS?”, he asked. “What the hell do you want to this job for?” His question made me want to do it even more, but my life had gone in a different direction by the time I was called.
I am Italian, Spanish, British, and Scottish – adopted and raised in a family of all that mixed. I have come to learn that my birth family includes Lithuanian, German, Syrian, and Armenian citizenry and a mix of Guatemalan and Honduran as well. I feel like the United Nations, but people see what they wish to see.
I am frightened for my niece who rides an ambulance each day during these violent clashes. I worry as much for the other children in my family, some of whom were also adopted and some who were not and are people of color. I hear news anchors say that they do not know how to have conversations about what is going on in our country with co-workers because they are so afraid to say the wrong thing. I think back to conversations I have had with women who say they had trouble telling their Hispanic families that they were dating a person of color – a person not the same color as they were. I remember one of my first friends in kindergarten who I was friends with pure and simple – I had no idea there was a difference in the color of our skin.
Over the last few months, I have been told that I am overtly political by people who are not of the thinking that I am. I have been called a “liberal”, a “Democrat” – as if those words were profanity in and of themselves. The disdain and vitriol those words carry for the people using them, absolutely amazes me. But when I ask for factual data or statements backed by data, those same people seemingly change the subject or deflect to a different line or phrase because they cannot back their claims up. While the whole world is on lock-down, I hear some of those same people saying it is a hoax, a scam, and we are all being led like sheep.
The plain and simple truth is this. George Floyd died. All the medical examiners agreed it was a homicide. There should have been no waiting – ALL the officers involved should have been fired AND arrested immediately. If it were you or I perpetrating the same crime on a street in Anywhere, USA, we would all be locked up. The saddest part is that no one is realizing just how many people each of us knows that could have been the man on that pavement. Why it may even have been YOU!
Our police departments are simply a microcosm of society – there are countless good cops who do good things, who sacrifice their lives to protect ours. Just like in society, there are bad cops who do bad things. The system has to change, training has to change, laws have to change. But the biggest change must come in MINDSET. However, when you go against the “accepted”, the “norm”, you are fighting a losing battle unless the change is drastic, pervasive, and equal.
I see posts on social media that have Dr. Martin Luther King pictured, which say “Looted nothing; Burned nothing; Attacked no one. Changed the World”
Has it really changed?
It is fifty plus years from HIS death at the hands of a maniac with a rifle. We still have that scenario playing out, but the victims now are children in school buildings. We still have oppressors with no good reason other than THEY CAN, committing the same senseless crimes against unarmed people – people of color. Data shows more white people are killed by police – according to my detractors – but those statistics do not state whether they are killed when handcuffed over suspicion of passing a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. Proportionally, there are more white people in this country so until you give me a more broken-down statistic where everything is equal, I will not accept that as an argument.
I worry about everyone I met in StartingBloc – regardless of color, race, religion, gender identification, sexual orientation, or any other classification needed to make us different. I worry because this group of people struck me as so young and so determined to change the world. I pray that they do not get jaded – I pray that they have the energy to continue the work that needs to be done in their communities all around the world.
I hope that each person on this planet would truly take a walk in another person’s shoes. In another time, another place – with one slight change in how the universe operates, all of this could be very different. The oppressors could have been oppressed; the privileged could have been without. Living for yourself gets lonely – living for each other brings focus and meaning into life.