A response to my friend’s extraordinary Facebook post about systemic racism in America

It’s hard to answer a post like this. You already expressed so much of what I feel. I’m not a mother (unless you count my fur-son, which in this case, we’re not 🙂 ), but I have two nephews I dote on and another little boy in my life (age 6) who’s like another godson to me. I would die for any of them.

But—all of them are cute white boys, growing up in “good families,” with all the privileges you can imagine. It’s very unlikely they will ever face anything like George Floyd or Eric Gardner or Trayvon Martin did. Laura, although what happened to your sons and their friend was horrific, I also think it was an aberration. I could be wrong; I know things have changed a lot since we were Gus and Wyatt’s age. But in general, my belief is that young black men are stopped for “nothings” like your kids were doing much more frequently.

I pray nothing like that ever happens to them again or to my little guys. The other thing I think you understand is that this does go back 500 years in America, and even farther than that in the world, and anyone who doesn’t believe that is deluding themselves.

Think about almost every story you’ve ever experienced by reading, watching TV or in the movies—even in TV commercials: “Black” or “dark” is bad, evil, a stain, undesirable—with a few exceptions, as in the case of ads for chocolate or coffee. The devil is always dark or black. The bad guys in Westerns wear black hats. A bad person is black-hearted.

I recently re-read the The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the umpteenth time, and—although it wasn’t the first time I noticed it—this was the first time it really bothered me how much **dark/black = evil** is woven into the fabric of the story. The ultimate bad guy is the Dark Lord, who lives in the shadowlands, the black tower of Barad-Dur, the black land of Mordor, and his main servants are the Black Riders, the Nazgul, who dress in black from head to toe and ride black steeds. The hobbits and other common folk in the story call them “those Black Men,” meaning dark with evil and literally black in the color of their garments (there are only a hint of actual black-skinned folk from countries far south and east of where the good guys live in Middle-Earth).

Now, I don’t think Tolkien was a virulent racist or that TLOTR is some kind of racist polemic. He was a man of his Victorian times, which means he was probably “a little racist” (kind of like a little pregnant?), and he was using language that everyone used then and still do. But my point in all this was how much more all this bothered me in the books than it ever has before.

I hope that’s a good thing, in a way, in that it means I’ve grown a little bit, but I also think it’s a sign of the terrible times we are living in. I am isolated, lonely, depressed, sad, angry, hurting, and completely disillusioned with any and all authority. I want to join a protest but can’t unless I can wrangle someone to push me in a wheelchair, but I’m also scared to be around hundreds or thousands of people yelling and spraying out their COVID germs. I’m terrified at the thought of being caught in a wheelchair if people start spraying smoke or tear gas and people start running, or anything like that. My bones are brittle and have already been broken enough times that, let’s just say, I’d rather not go through that again.

On top of all that, I know in my heart that none of this pain, anger, or existential angst holds even the barest candle to what people of color in America feel. I have a dear friend who has a wonderfully mixed and exotic heritage who has taught me so much over the 20+ years I’ve known her about the experience of being “not white” in America. I am so grateful for how much she has opened my eyes, but I need to continue learning and understanding more what I can do personally to effect change.

People: IT IS TIME FOR A CHANGE. It is long past time. We can’t go back and erase the sins of the past, but we cannot allow this cruelty and pain to continue for one more day. Let the protests and the anger become a catalyst for each of us, no matter what race, to do something, even one thing.

My pledge is to:
1) Write letters to our local mayor and police chief;
2) Write letters to the governor and “my”* local state rep/senator;
3) Write letters to “my” U.S. rep and senators;
4) Always be mindful of my own thoughts, words and actions; and,
5) Read three books recommended in a good article in the New York Times, I think, which I either bought or borrowed free on Amazon Kindle. I think seven or eight books were recommended, but these three seemed a good place to start. Yes, I’ll find the article and post it here, if I can! 🙂 

*Note that “my” is in quotes because I really don’t believe right now that any of those folks have MY interests in mind, or even, let’s say, the interests of the area they represent. I understand that a senator represents a whole state, and can’t pay too much attention to any one person, but I don’t think they even do that any longer.

Thank you for reading, if you are still here, and love to all. Please post your comments and any of your ideas for making change in the world.