It is with a heavy heart that I watch the news. It is with a heavy heart that I hear the assumptions and accusations while hoping for the truth. And yet I also fear what that truth could be. And if the truth hurts or proves difficult to swallow, can our country move forward and heal?
It is with a heavy heart that I must acknowledge that although there is love and light and goodness and much to hope for in our world, there is also death and prejudice and war and injustice. We live in a world with sufficient resources, yet a few have more than they can consume while many don’t have enough. We live in a world where when women are raped we interrogate them—calling their integrity, modesty, or foresight into question as if women bear the responsibility for avoiding rape as opposed to men being responsible for hearing “no” (or seeing someone is incapable of granting consent) and choosing to stop. We live in a world where racism is explained away and those who object are treated with incredulity, disrespect, or disdain.
I don’t like to write about current events, but when they affect my thoughts and feelings so deeply, I can’t be silent. So here I am again, heavy-hearted, looking at the country I love and live in, and being forced to face the pernicious and pervasive realities of racism. Because regardless of whom you label “us” and which group(s) you call “them,” both sides have some blood on their hands. No one is completely innocent. Many a country has harmed groups of its citizens. Many a group has produced dangerous individuals. Many individuals have turned a blind eye—or resorted to misdirection, victim blaming, or denial.
Sometimes I wish I could grant the world a do-over—that I could erase every great wrong. There is so much conflict on every level. World peace is a cliché for a reason. We are doing harm to each other for motives that do not stack up against the immeasurable value of a life. We oppress the vulnerable and punish the innocent. We pretend to play by the rules with one hand while the other hand points fingers and/or rigs the system. And when the issue of systemic disadvantages is raised, we claim everything is fair and equal.
It’s not that we haven’t made progress, but we also don’t deserve an “all done” pat on the back. We still choose to create wealth by taking advantage of the already impoverished. We haven’t managed to untangle racism from all our institutions. And we’re killing each other in a country with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” etched in its foundation.
This is a country built on the premise that all men are created equal, but which also claimed that some men aren’t men. Perhaps the pursuit of happiness has really become a pursuit of wealth, and greed and exploitation often follow close behind. And when greed and racism and power mix and go unchecked, the price some pay is death. The same can be said of any empowered belief system that devalues a life for any reason, because a life that’s considered worth less is easier to take from someone.
Death is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean we should make it easier. Any yet, we have invented elaborate ways to kill each other—one at a time, dozens at a time, and thousands at a time. We can even kill remotely without having to look the life we’re taking in the eye.
We can disagree about how to proceed or what the root cause of our world’s problems are, but the stakes are too high to focus more on our differing perspectives, tones, or language, than on coming together, listening to each other, and finding solutions. These are literally matters of life and death. And life is precious. All lives matter, so black lives matter and blue lives matter and refugees’ lives matter. Your life matters regardless of whether you are wealthy or poor and whether you’re a suspect or law enforcement. Your life matters whether you worship in a church, a synagogue, or a mosque. Your life matters even if you don’t believe in God.
It is with a heavy heart that I must admit the news has changed me. When the shooting at Pulse in Orlando occurred and it was reported that it was the largest mass shooting in American history with fifty lives lost, my first thought was: Fifty, that’s it? That’s the largest? Almost instantaneously I was horrified that fifty seems like a small number to me now. And when the news stories began to break about unarmed citizens (many black) dying at the hands of police when they seemed to pose no threat, I was quick to assume each was just a tragic mistake. But then it kept happening. And then I watched to see what would come next. Would there be protests? Would vigilantes seek retaliation? And would the ensuing violence hurt the innocent?
I’m scheduled to do some travelling this summer (both domestically and abroad) and mixed in with my excitement is a small streak of fear. It’s not big enough to keep me from moving about the world, but it’s there. Danger is an epidemic. Terrorism isn’t a distant notion; it’s happening here. No longer can we say: Oh well, he/she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. No longer can we act as though only the guilty die.
You can be sitting in a café in Paris and be shot. You can be dancing in a club in Orlando and be shot. You can get pulled over for a broken taillight and get shot. You can be a child playing in a park or a police officer assigned to a peaceful protest and get shot. And depending on who you are and what you look like, afterwards others will (sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly) blame you or ask loaded questions.
I am not a police officer, and don’t presume to know what they go through. However, while I can’t relate, I am related to or have otherwise known and loved quite a few. My grandfather was a police officer and then police commissioner (as well as a very smart man), and I find myself wishing I could ask for his perspective on current events. Personally, I don’t understand shooting anyone who isn’t already pointing a gun at you or at least acting violently. Personally, I don’t understand when a person who looks subdued and non-threatening is met with deadly force. I also don’t understand ending the lives of police officers whose only crime is that they showed up for work.
It feels like our country has relapsed, but the truth is we were always sick. It’s just that now there can be a video as well as witness testimony, and now there’s Twitter and Facebook as well as newspapers and television. When everyone has friends (or followers) and a smartphone, it is a lot harder to keep things away from a critical light. Technology and social media won’t save us, but they can give those who have historically been ignored or silenced a voice.
We’ve made progress as a country, but some of it was superficial, and now some lights are shining into the dark corners and people have started exposing what’s been swept under the rug. Intelligent minds are asking questions that haven’t been asked before and uncovering forces and motivations that have yet to be extensively explored.
As a woman of color it’s hard not to feel disheartened at times. There are studies showing that the color of my skin is not an innocuous characteristic in certain situations. I can vote and drink from any water fountain, but for some being black has proven to be painful, deadly, and dangerous. Studies indicate that black patients seeking medical attention receive less pain treatment. Studies indicate that men convicted of raping black women receive shorter sentences than men convicted of raping white women. Studies show that black children receive harsher punishments in schools. And where there are no studies, there’s just this feeling that something is very wrong. And in these and so many other instances lives hang in the balance.
I don’t have any solutions for society’s problems. I don’t have any cures for what ails us. Today I’m just sad that more people are dead that shouldn’t be. Today I’m just harboring a heavy heart because this country of freedom doesn’t allot that freedom equally. If only it were as easy as putting an eraser to racism and injustice and hatred. If only we hadn’t become so good at making deadly weapons. It’s easy to look at the world and be overwhelmed. It’s easy to stop looking or pretend that the problems aren’t there. But too many people are dying or screaming for help. It cannot be that our response to unwarranted death is the effective equivalent of “that’s life…oh well.”