The Curse of Neutrality

My country is in turmoil.

I have thought long and hard about whether to stay silent on my website about any of this, and I have decided that I cannot do it. If I do not stand for my ideals, then who am I? I am, perhaps, afraid of isolating myself from my readers, of losing fans, of… whatever.

In the end, my country is in turmoil. People are hurting. People have lost their lives, and if I do not stand up from my position of relative privilege, then what is my value as a human being? What is my worth?

For the previous eight days, protests have broken out in every one of the fifty states. Teargas has filled cities along with protestors exercising their rights as citizens in this country. Our president has hidden in a bunker. The world has watched while we have torn ourselves apart.

The reason these protests started, was due to the unjust murder of George Floyd. His death is what raised the issue of police brutality, and that is what people are protesting. In the name of George Floyd and in the names of others who have been killed by the hands of police.

“I can’t breathe” has become their rallying cry.

It took the death, captured by a 17 year old’s camera, to get to this point, but for how long have people in America been crying out because they can’t breathe? How long have we had this incredible chasm between those who have, and those who have not? How long have people been saying I can’t breathe, America, before we have been given no option but to hear them?

Before I continue on, understand that this crisis is absolutely about police brutality and a very necessary requirement our country faces for substantial police and social reform, if not a complete overhaul.

We are facing a pandemic right now, but in truth, we have been facing a pandemic of a different sort for a long time. We should honor the cause, and what is currently happening. And while I believe it is our moral obligation to fight for equal rights under the law, for ALL people, I also want to take time to examine this other virus in the heart of our society from which so many of these issues spawn.

In 2018, 14.3 million households in America had a hard time securing enough food to keep themselves adequately fed. This is before COVID-19 swept through the nation, killing over 100,000 Americans, rendering so many unemployed, and making hard situations even worse. COVID-19, the pandemic that has thrown the entire planet into a tailspin, has, in America, impacted communities of color far more than their white counterparts.

Furthermore, a disproportionate number of those living in poverty-like conditions were, and remain, people of color. Poverty has been increasing along with the income gap. The chasm between the ultra-wealthy and the ultra-poor is widening, and it’s the Americans of color who are carrying the bulk of that burden. 

There are two Americas.

Poverty keeps people from:

Adequate medical care…

Adequate education…

Adequate job opportunities…

Adequate food…

More here.

Our prison and justice systems are disproportionately flooded with people of color.

The lack of all of this means that, for example, communities of color are dying in greater numbers from illnesses like COVID-19. It means that, while I have been bemoaning the fact that I don’t know what to cook for dinner tonight, one in five children in the United States have been going to bed hungry. And as terrible as that sounds, the global pandemic has only made that childhood hunger worse in America.

And this is not taking into account the fact that many of our politicians have systematically disenfranchised people of color voters, robbing them of having a voice in the very country in which they reside.

We now live in a nation that is designed to lock out nearly everyone who’s not white.

Communities of color have disproportionately been carrying the weight of the secure society so many of us enjoy, and rarely even think about. With backs breaking under the strain, is it any wonder why people have been calling out in an effort to be heard for as long as America has been a country? Is it any wonder why George Floyd’s words have been such a powerful rallying cry for so many thousands of Americans?

Rarely do we see the lack of opportunity and diminished income in impoverished communities as the bedrock from which many of our societal issues spawn. 

We, who live with our privilege, do not tend to see racism until there is one, or a handful of egregious actions that force us to pay attention. The cop, slowly suffocating a man in the streets. We do not see the racism that is imbedded in our communities, in our American way of life. We do not recognize the fact that it is the people of color who have been carrying the biggest burden required to support our various societal chasms–income inequality, food scarcity, lack of access to adequate healthcare, lack of access to adequate education, lack of choice. We stopped acknowledging this inequality. It is so imbedded, many of us do not see it.

Taken by photographer Richard Grant

We, who have the privilege of being on this side of the gap, have had the luxury to not see. 

It is unfortunate that we do not recognize the rot at the core of our system until it all comes spilling out. It is tragic that we choose to not feel ire until a white septuagenarian with a cane is pushed forcefully onto the pavement for no reason at all. Or we do not see how twisted anger can make us, until a man starts shooting arrows into a crowd while yelling, “All lives matter!” Or until police shoot paint cans at American citizens standing on the front porches of their own houses. Or forcefully pull protesters out of cars and pepper-spray them at point-blank range. It is unfortunate that we do not shake hands with our injustices until they cross that divide, and impact us personally.

We have forgotten the art of empathy. How long has it been since we have heard the cries of the oppressed.

There has been a virus in our country for a long, long time. The virus of have, and have not. The virus spread by those who refuse to see, who have forgotten to see, and those who refuse to hear. George Floyd’s murder was beyond tragic, but we are missing the mark if we think that all of this is only about police brutality. While that is a large part of this, and it needs to be recognized and immediately addressed with substantial reforms, there are deeper issues at play here. Deeper problems at the heart of our American way of life that are equally as pressing and need to be seen, and dealt with. Problems that have birthed a society where police murdering a black man in the streets of an American city becomes a thing that happens. This event did not happen in a vacuum. There are seeds planted in this garden, and this is the corrupt fruit that grew.

This is not enough.
Do better.

We have not heard. We did not listen to the voices of those crying out until there was fire in our cities, and people flooding the streets.

I can’t breathe.

If we do not listen to people when they speak, is it any wonder that they eventually shout?

4 Responses

  • I see a lot of people crying, “People need to be more willing to talk! Both sides need to work towards a peaceful resolution!” And it always seems lost on them that for year, decades, people on the oppressed side HAVE been trying to talk, have been trying to make themselves heard, and nobody on the side of the oppressor was willing to listen or take them seriously. “Both sides have to talk peacefully,” is what gets said, but what’s meant is, “Those oppressed people need to learn to be quiet, because silence means that there aren’t any problems.”

    After all, if there were problems, people would speak up and act out about them.

    OH WAIT

    Reply
    • People have been trying to talk for a long, long time. No one hears them until they fill the streets, and then, instead of getting listened to, they get shot in the face with teargas.

      Reply
  • Traci

    I dunno–I can’t see anyone who has read your amazing works being turned off by this post. (Other than that schmo who stopped reading Of Honey and Wildfires when they decided you were antifa. And, who needs ’em?) You do so much research that informs your world-building, you’re like a Sarah Kendzior-level expert on terrible leaders and how they destroy countries and people. Which is to say, you’re someone worth listening to!

    Reply
    • “you’re like a Sarah Kendzior-level expert on terrible leaders and how they destroy countries and people.” <-- that made me laugh. thank you!

      Reply

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