The unnecessarily evil human interaction between the late George Floyd, citizen, and the incarcerated Derek Chauvin, former police officer, lit the wick on a Molotov Cocktail that exploded outward from Minneapolis. We could cheekily call it the knee heard round the world.
This event comes during a Spring of discontent with two, mostly unconnected, world events. May began as a witness to militant White Americans marching for their freedom to infect each other with a potentially deadly virus. May ended as demonstrations of equally frustrated Black Americans standing up for their freedom to live without fear of dying began. These are defining events in the story of America.
I am overwhelmed by the inescapable volume of information about these events. A response shared across the country and the Western world. As I write, the bulk of reports on protests and violent incidents fades, while the intensity of the confrontation to thoughts and emotions continues. I feel unable to organize and find meaning in the information flow.
My emotional reaction to the images of the protests is to hide. I react strongly to expressions of power and seek safety when authority figures act provoked, even when there is no threat to my person or property. This reaction is part of the legacy of a chaotic childhood.
What I am learning through personal and professional growth is that I can respond from a place of seeking change through listening. I can use my power as a person who is a behavioral health professional to provide a space for others to explore how they want to respond to authority.
That means I must prepare by exposing myself to threatening images and words. Constructing an eye in the storm is a self-care strategy. Maintenance of that calm space will be needed often in the coming months.
What sense is there to make of COVID19 and the murder of Black people by the police? This coronavirus is resetting the economy to a spot about 20 years in the past. The American economy is so structured around spending in restaurants and bars that there will be a shift in how people entertain themselves. Retail and office functions are disappearing as spaces for face-to-face interaction. Private clubs may return.
It is heartening to see conversations about the racist nature of the American political economy in corners that long denied the existence of power differentials. Roger Goodell publicly changed the official position of the NFL regarding the rights of players to express their First Amendment rights and to call out a flaw in the politics of their home country. Big news because the National Football League is a symbol of racism in America.
This morning I listened to an interview with Ibram X Kendi, author of How To Be An Antiracist and other works on an episode of the podcast Pod Save the World. He framed racism as a power construct. Racism is the deliberate strategy of subjugating a person to an unjust power structure, while antiracism is the resisting of that subjugation in search of equality of power. At any moment, each of us is supporting or resisting racism. Therefore, each of us can choose to act racist or to act antiracist. By framing racism as an action, Kendi seeks to reclaim the word racist from the archetypal world of monsters–as Gene Demby put it in a 2014 episode of the Code Switch podcast.
The critical perspective works for me. I continuously fight for the right to define myself and support the rights of others to do the same. Framing racism as a thinking error also has legs. I find the quest for a flat political hierarchy a thought-provoking position, and an ambitious dream. However, the exercise of creating an alternative vision for a society of equals that values the individual contribution of members is a worthy use of time.
Subjectivizing people, seeing them for how they see themselves, is the vehicle for empowerment. It is a practice with increasing space in the life of one middle-aged, middle-class White man who desires a way for all to express themselves.
In the words of Sly Stone, “I want to thank you falettinme be mice elf agin”.