Black Lives Matter
“Don’t let the magnitude of the challenge take you away from the incremental steps necessary to effect change”
Ed and I were 13 and had a hare-brained scheme to steal a few things from the JCPenney’s at our neighborhood mall. We grabbed the items and quietly slipped out the door.
Nobody saw us. No alarms went off.
We began reveling in our clean getaway as we walked down the street... we had gotten ahead of ourselves.
Within moments, security guards had their hands on us. What happened next was perplexing for a 13 year old but feels apropos now.
They inexplicably let me go. As for Ed: they detained him for hours, took his photo, and “banned him for life."
I was just as complicit as Ed… but I was white and Ed was black.
At the time, I was thrilled to have gotten away scot-free. Now, I look back on that event embarrassed and saddened. Black people are treated differently.
That lesson was reminded again recently as I read Colson Whitehead’s astounding The Underground Railroad, which recounts the jaw-dropping treatment of blacks in the 1800s.
And finally, the lesson is impossible to ignore today with George Floyd’s death and related protests.
America has a profound, complex and at times painful history with its treatment of African Americans.
However, if Ryan Holiday is right and The Obstacle Is the Way, then perhaps we are on the right path.
Racial tensions with police and blacks had already been simmering. Then the COVID quarantine created a powder keg of unemployed, isolated and stressed Americans.
The powder keg was ready and George Floyd’s horrific murder was the match.
This explosion could be a path to healing our racial tensions. Perhaps the fallout will prevent future police brutality… and perhaps it will help us with COVID.
Many of the protests have been a beautiful mix of diversity and standing shoulder to shoulder, with even police participating in some protests, across the world.
For a moment put aside the pain (and the disappointing looting) and there’s a silver lining: the protests are 1) bringing people together and 2) reminding people that we can be near each other without getting sick.
Perhaps this reaction is what we needed for change.
Maybe the justice system will throw the book at the Minneapolis police officer and send a message.
Maybe this pushes us out of quarantine isolation.
Stepping back and looking at America now: people of every color protesting together, and comparing that to the America recounted in Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, it’s clear the progress we’ve made is frustratingly slow… but undeniable.
Maybe the COVID powder keg made it so THIS reaction happened. This coming together, this protesting side by side, this message about police brutality.
I should have faced the same treatment as Ed, black Americans should get the same treatment from police as whites, and if justice is served, this Minnesota police officer should receive the same treatment as any normal murderer.
This obstacle is hard… but perhaps it is the way.