Some of you will look at this picture and be very angry that this statue was vandalized.
Others will see it as a beautiful expression of anger and pain that has long been bottled up.
COVID-19 hit us like a blunt force trauma, stunned some of us into isolation and others onto a frenzied front line. That was followed by the senseless death, or murder, of an African American man named George Floyd at the hands of police.
A lot of people have asked, “Why did this death trigger so much protest?” “Why was this man’s death the last straw?” I think because so little was going on, so few were distracted, and the world was so quiet, we were in a place where we could hear and feel George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe.” It got our attention.
This the script I am currently following.
1. Watch, listen with curiosity, and don’t pass judgement.
I’ve not watched the video. As a suicide prevention advocate who fights for lives every day, I couldn’t bear watching someone beg for his life while being held down. I think of his mom first, his brother, and the rest of his family. I also think about the other officers, the new one on the force following the senior officer and maybe regretting his choice to follow those directions. What’s he feeling now?
No matter where you stand on the protests that erupted since, I hope you’ll take a moment to see this as an awareness opportunity. And to think about it from as many points of view as possible. Not just your own.
2. Observe from a place of empathy.
I’m a middle-aged white girl and don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color and I don’t pretend to. My son’s addiction and then death by suicide ripped my soul apart but the experience also brought me nose-to-nose with humility and empathy. It was only after reading my son’s lyrics after his death, that I recognized how little I knew.
Confederate statues that celebrate slavery have sat on pedestals and dominated the landscape of our city’s most legendary Avenue in Richmond, Virginia for decades, even centuries. Do any of you feel it was absurd they were ever there? For me to understand the pain, I have to understand the plight.
3. Talk less. Listen more.
I don’t have any great wisdom to share other than I think the issue of racism is systemic, baked into our culture. I can’t deny that I have white privilege. I want to know what that is exactly which means understanding what I get as a result of my whiteness that others are denied. For that to happen, I need to shut up and listen. Because I learn a lot more as a peaceful observer.
4. Don’t just listen to what people are saying. Listen to how they are saying it.
Sure, I see the anger. What I feel is the pain and frustration behind that emotion. So when I step back and listen with curiosity, look at it from a place of empathy, shut up and listen, only then will I understand. And I want to understand.
5. Don’t generalize.
Not all police are bad. Not all white people are racist. Not all black people are criminals. In fact, most police are good people, most white people do not want to be prejudice and most African Americans are hardworking citizens. Labeling people in generalized categories won’t get us where we need to be.
So I’m asking you to pause for a moment and breathe. Don’t think about soundbites you’ve heard or read. Think for yourself and of yourself as part of a larger context and the changes that are happening at this moment in history.
How can we carry this forward productively? How can we learn more, accept, and inspire positive change without more people dying needlessly in that process?