BY CYRENE RENEE
It has been several days since the start of the global protest (deep sigh). I do that often now. I like to say that there is a blessing in the breath. To breathe is a blessing all its own. “Please, I can’t breathe” are the words spoken from George Floyd as he gasped for air while held down under the knees of Minneapolis Police Officers, seen on the viral video taken Memorial Day 2020. While bystanders called out pleading for the officers to check his pulse and to lift him up, he was pinned down. He was no threat to anyone, the officers or to himself. The cries for help were then silent. He was murdered. This is not the first time we have heard those words. In 2014 Eric Garner uttered “I can’t breathe” while in a chokehold by New York City Police. It is undeniable that police brutality did not start in 2014, but decades ago. Between then and now there has been countless other accounts of murders by the hands of police nationwide. The question is… When will it end?
I posted a question on Facebook recently asking “when you hear parents/guardians say they had the talk with their kids, what kind of talk comes to mind? I know traditionally we normally think of the sex talk. The introduction to sexual education covering topics of reproduction, hormones, puberty and the birds and the bees. Which I never fully understood. I am nor a bird or a bee. I know as a child of the 80s I had the say no to drugs talk. The what do you do if someone offers drugs, alcohol, narcotics, cigarettes and even candy. I believe my first chat was the sexual abuse/assault talk. Learning that my private parts were to remain private and no one had the right to violate them. As I got older the talks became more detailed and more extensive. It was important for me to understand and implement what I had learned for my safety and others.
Now that I am parent, I am the one giving the talks. My 15-year-old daughter recently received the black girl in America talk. It is not something that was highlighted for me growing up specifically. It was something that I observed and adhered to. Most of that knowledge came with the idea during the Rodney King riots of 1992. I was about 11 years old then. I was introduced to the differences of race and the detriment it had on society. But now, the talk is needed. She is no longer a cute little Black girl. She will be looked at as a Black teen, a Black young adult. It is different and it matters. I am a Black woman. All incumbent and simultaneously Black and woman at the same time. I cannot and will not explain to you what it is to be a Black woman. My experiences are all my own and may not fit into your notion of your expectations. To some it comes with a double-edged sword and to others it can be described as a sort of magical pride. Maybe, it is a bit of both altogether at the same time.
The race talk is a talk that is needed. Period. It is not a chat just for minorities, but all minors, whether they are Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American. There are some with the false narrative that blackness means inferiority, blackness means less than, blackness will never be equal in comparison to other races. This is not true. You cannot judge a person’s character, heart, spirit, and mind based off the color of their skin. Blackness is not a weapon. Discrimination comes in many forms. Entitlement is reprehensible This is not a one-sided burden. This can no longer be addressed just to the oppressed. We must let go of the ideologies and negative outlines that has plagued communities for centuries. Racism is taught. This conversation will be uncomfortable. It will lead to questions you may not like that answers to. You may not have the answers to, but it will be a journey to explore together for a positive conclusion. It is not about your ability to not see color. Remove the facade of the rose-colored glasses. We should see color. We must see color. We need to respect and appreciate the differences in our cultures. We need to learn from each other. It is not about your comfort or shame. It is about our children’s future. It is our duty to prepare them for what is to come. We raise to let go. We cannot coddle them. This means we must first be honest with ourselves.
This country was built on racism. From the stolen land, resources and murders of Native Americans, African/African American slavery, the Civil War, share cropping, Jim Crow, segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, lynching, voter suppression, malpractice medical studies, the Civil Rights Movement, poor education, redlining, drugs and narcotics, unequal pay, mass incarceration and much more. It is something that is engrained in the very fibers that have created these United States. Maybe that is why from generation to generation we see a resurgence of violence and oppression in many ways. We have yet to learn from our past. We need forward movement and revolutionary thought. It is not just about White vs Black. It is about right vs wrong.
Rioting is not a new concept. From the whites who attacked and annihilated Black Wall Street in Oklahoma in 1921 to the Rosewood massacre in Florida in 1923. Wiping out whole prosperous communities based on false accusations was a violent trend against Blacks. Some may say that the end justified the means in those unfortunate, deadly, and cruel circumstances. It depends on who you ask. Less than a month ago, majority White protesters took to the streets during the Covid-19 2020 pandemic. They marched with assault rifles to combat the recommendation of social distancing by threatening the government and police. Holding signs stating the needs of getting haircuts and comparing protective face masks to the slave iron muzzle. Those protesters were not met with tear gas. One of those locations was Michigan. However, I do not remember any of those people marching for the Flint water crisis happening a few cities over. I digress. The media’s strategic coverage of fans (more like thugs) who set cars ablaze and vandalize property for rowdy fun (unruly and destructive behavior) during wins of sports championship games. They are not met with batons, riot gear or the National Guard. Yet, in the cases combating police brutality, people are more concerned with the looting and less with the murders. People are upset with the crowds and less about the crass cruelty of treatment. People are appalled at the demonstration but not the victimization, mental and emotional stress this has on society and a people. I guess it all depends on the cause and the who.
There have been nonviolent attempts for protest. As a matter of fact, I read that a lot. Well, many of them are just that. Peaceful. Martin Luther King Jr. The most notable in this area had an entire platform of a nonviolent approach to change. He too was met with dogs, police clubs, arrests, water hoses and ultimately an assassination which caused his untimely death. There have been other attempts of peaceful protests from sit ins at Woolworth Counters in the 1950s, marches, silent vigils, boycotting, the use of music, poetry, and other art forms, to most recently kneeling during the National Anthem. Those were also not acceptable. They were collectively rumored to be troublemakers. The celebrities who speak out against it by using their platforms to promote education, peace, attend protest themselves and donates bail money to those arrested during demonstrations are told to shut up and color. Negating the long history of celebrities who fought in the Civil Rights Movement’s past. Are they not people too? Should they just be the source or entertainment without a voice? No. So, if violence is not the answer and is peace isn’t either, what is the solution? We have the right to protest and manifest the right of freedom to assemble and freedom of speech. And that right will be exercised as it has for hundreds of years.
The people are angry. The people are hurt. The people are tired. I am people too. It is not enough to turn the blind eye to the problem anymore. We must have the conversation about race with our children. The conversation should extend to your loved ones and friends. Everything from discrimination to privilege is all relevant. In the time of all lives matter vs Black lives matter vs Blue lives matter, LGBTQ+, women’s rights, freedom of religion and many other causes, the Civil Rights Movement did not end in the 1960s. It is now. It just took on a new generation. Not everyone is boisterous during this time. The silence is deafening. Ignoring the issues won’t make this all go away. This is not a right now solution. There is no right now solution for a 400-year problem. It is up to us to create an atmosphere of honesty for the healing to begin. The wounds of the past are now. I hope you join me in the action for change.
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