Bewildered & Black

Shirelle Pearson

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Bewildered & Black

“America is broken and, in this brokenness, we need to name our ailments and tame them, accordingly. Reset our mindset! There are many who are content merely to be, but most find themselves emboldened now to ferociously participate in democracy, as a moral coalition.  Democracy is a life-long habit, and we must move ourselves beyond our immeasurable pain by exercising our full citizenship.”—Shirelle Pearson

Our Kaïros

By Shirelle Pearson

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”—Congressman John Lewis, in a tweet from June 2018.

Shirelle Pearson

LONG ISLAND New York—(Weekly Hubris)—1 August 2020—I am Black, female and middle-aged―a poignant trifecta, particularly in these unprecedented times. I was both honored and terrified when invited to write an Op Ed piece about how I was feeling during this pandemic and social injustice unrest mishegoss.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the meaning of life—how to live my best one and help other people along my journey to fulfilling my life’s purpose—and not much on social media platforms, with the exception of LinkedIn. I am an active spectator who watches while other brave hearts speak their truth and get their asses handed back to them by the population at large. In this digital age, we have become an anonymous society of people busy judging each other instead of respecting one another’s differences and opinions. Instead of playing on the strengths of not being a homogeneous society and being better together, we tend to tear anything different from us down.

Finally, I got myself together, after several weeks’ delay, to jump into the fray and share what has been in my heart, as I understand how important democracy is.  My definition of complete democracy allows all people, regardless of color, to be on an equal footing, and given the opportunity to be successful as whole beings, rights not currently reserved for certain factions of citizenry. Talent is inherently equal, while opportunity, under the best circumstances, typically is not in America. The supreme power of government lies in its ability to serve its people, as confirmed in the Constitution:  but 154 years of oppressive structural racism since the end of slavery is shameful and a disservice to all Americans.

Born in the late 1960’s, I missed witnessing firsthand the greatness of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s and Malcolm X’s teachings and guidance; and, instead, learned about them from my school textbooks.  Both knew they would be making trouble in speaking up and lost their lives because they miscalculated the ruthlessness of people who did not want change.

It was difficult to begin to imagine what my parents and their parents endured, let alone what I learned about Germany and the Holocaust. Seemed like a bad movie! Then, I saw “Roots,” which rocked my world and encouraged me to think more critically. I realized that my textbook education was inadequate because it came with the authors’ biases: both conscious and unconscious.

I guess I should be grateful that Black and Brown people received a shout-out: otherwise, I would never have known I’d had the proverbial wool pulled over my eyes, bamboozled and hoodwinked.  Who could fathom that kings and queens, royalty stolen from Africa and thrown into bondage to become slaves, could be an acceptable practice, even if it had long been a way of life in foreign lands.

Slaves were considered common chattel, devoid of intellect, purchased to toil in their masters’ fields, take care of their offspring, and perform whatever onerous tasks their owners ordered. Yet slaves were considered “human enough” to rape, in more ways than one. Bewilderment is my legacy—welcome to America!

The Constitution’s preamble states that the United States of America desires “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” General welfare for whom? This land was stolen from its native peoples, then worked by people taken captive from their homelands by irrefutable force, if they were “fortunate” enough to survive passage.  Enslaved because of capitalism: the haves wanting to create more degrees of separation from the have-nots.

Others came over voluntarily as immigrants to see the streets made of gold they had heard of and live in the land that overflowed with milk and honey, for all who entered America’s welcoming open arms. These dreamers, while escaping from what they saw as threats to their well-being, arrived to find inadequate housing, unsanitary living conditions, and much illness. Many died, yet life went on, as the survivors clawed for just a sliver of America’s pie. They were considered not worthy of more until people spoke up, out, and loudly to affect much needed change.

Two hundred and forty-six years of slavery ended thanks to President Lincoln and his uncanny ability to surround himself with others who came from different walks-of-life, such as Frederick Douglas. He was able to synthesize information to win the Civil War and abolish slavery. Black Americans fought in the war and finally had a reason to be proud, after being abducted from their motherland. They vigorously fought for something they were willing to die for—Freedom. For a moment, we could all join in the jubilee.

The list is long when it comes to inequality—the white-sheeted Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, voter suppression, Tulsa’s Black Wall Street Massacre and Rosewood. Separate but equal was a farce and the unquenchable anger arose when others were given access to view the inhumanity via the free press. Much like today, journalists looked for the most scintillating, Pulitzer-Prize-winning stories. They pulled the curtain back and our eyes, minds, and hearts were just then fully aware of the great injustices we’ve embodied and endured here where, as a nation, we began to speak up and out, in an attempt to rectify the sins of America’s past.

Dr. Charles Drew and nurse, with patient.

Dr. Charles Drew and nurse, transporting patient.

Yet institutionalized racism changed shape and lived on. We took a collective sigh of relief and continued to hope that more change for the better lay ahead. Black people contributed to advancements in engineering and science, with the likes of the traffic light—thank you Lewis Latimer; Architecture—thank you Benjamin Banneker, and medicine—thank you Dr. Charles Drew, for the blood transfusion process. What a shame that Dr. Drew died, because the very thing he needed to save his life, a blood transfusion, was withheld because of the color of his skin. Welcome to America!

Our military fought mightily for the freedoms we enjoy, which put us head-and-shoulder above other nations. Many Black men and women made the ultimate sacrifice, by giving their lives. Others who returned from war were treated as second- and third-class citizens. Yet we moved forward with our heads held high, thinking better was coming.

Then, along came COVID-19: shutdown, disbelief, death, despair, and righteous rage. COVID, the great equalizer, if only temporary, the virus which does not see color or economic status, striking down many, of all colors and classes.

I was stunned at how quickly life, as I knew it, could stop; my plans cancelled, for how long is anyone’s guess. The pandemic’s end seems open-ended although many are fighting to reopen fully, throwing caution to the wind and paying dire consequences for missteps; capitalism, politicizing the issue.

Black people make up only thirteen percent of the American population, yet they have suffered three times the average number of deaths, due to living conditions and jobs that require them to work on the pandemic’s front lines. We also had less than appropriate health insurance, particularly with the roll-back of the Affordable Care Act individual mandate, which required the majority of the population to have a certain level of medical coverage.

COVID gave America that much needed wake-up call that she needed to realize that she is not as great a nation as she pretends to be. All countries are watching us in dismay over why there is so much death here. While other countries have recovered, with less fanfare, we here stumble on. Is it that the freedoms this democracy seemingly affords us make for a deadly political game?

Wearing a mask seems to be a simple ask, but somehow it is a problem, as some Americans want their cake and to eat it, too. You want to live free, have a viable economy, to do as you please, but you do not want to be responsible for helping solve the problem at hand. If you are not part of the solution, you tend to be part of the problem.

America’s social contract with its Black, Brown and poor citizens has long been broken, and COVID has publicly aired our dirty laundry: systemic racism, poverty, and disparity spring eternal here.

We can no longer suffer in silence. Economic redistribution needs to happen to uplift America’s citizens. We all must speak up for our invisible and unheard brothers, sisters, and the downtrodden. These winds of change brought on by the modern-day-lynching of George Perry Floyd, Jr. have left us all suffocating in disbelief, again.

Mr. Floyd’s was not the first needless, horrific death of a Black or Brown person perpetrated under the guise of policing. It’s just another watershed moment showing the uncaring nature of America, as we continue not to face that we need to humanize people who are often dehumanized and over-simplified.

It is time we saw each other as whole beings and not as the colors we wear, these beautiful hues of blacks and browns. Floyd’s murder was not “specific to Minnesota,” but the fact that we all chose to bear witness to this lynching was breathtaking. It took me a week to sit down and stomach the footage of a police officer brazen enough to put his knee on another man’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds while people implored him to stop and the target of this officer’s rage begged for his life. His other brothers in blue closed ranks and looked away, as if they did not know this massive abuse of power was happening in their midst.

Officer Derek Chauvin stood over Mr. Floyd’s lifeless body like a proud hunter, with his foot atop his prey, while the other three officers stood by, as willing accomplices.

The free press made us stand up, yet again, saying no, saying enough is enough! We have to stand up and demand that America stop serving us up on a tray, vulnerable to all abuses and racism, a well-known and tolerated facet of our degenerating society. We will not and cannot go back to being strange fruit, hanging from America’s trees.

This unconscionable act has galvanized Blacks, Asians, whites, and Latinos; the young, old, rich, and poor people to exercise their right to assemble and protest for change in a beautiful showing of solidarity.

At times, the anger brewing from recent events reached back through time to enliven past-unsettled transgressions, and boiling over into violence: these occurrences distracted from the seriousness of the issue and some well-intended peaceful protests unintentionally erupted into looting, burning, and attacking the militarized police. This I cannot condone, but can certainly understand the rage,  because those who have been sworn to protect and serve us can pose more of a threat to Black and Brown people than anyone else.

Driving while Black is dangerous, even when you comply with the officer’s instructions, move slowly and speak in an unthreatening tone. We are all imperfect humans, but officers are held to a higher standard because of their solemn obligation to protect and serve. Officers like Chauvin feel the need to prove their dominance, even when there is no contest except in their own minds. Though these recently publicized deaths are now front and center, so many innocent people throughout America’s history have died or been injured by law enforcement.

What future can we truly have if we continue with this abhorrent lack of accountability, inequality, exclusion, and authoritarianism? Our unfulfilled citizenship requires us to take our seat at the table of humanity, face the darkness of America’s opressions of the past head-on and disrupt the existing process. Political tribalism has no place here: we must lead with love and kindness, understanding our diversity.

There are 4,000 words in the Constitution and 3,000 words dedicated to amendments, because change is inevitable and societal rules must follow in keeping with America’s promised democracy for all, not a luxury for a privileged few. We must take America’s knee off our collective necks and breathe life into our democracy that has severely eroded in recent years.

Congressman John Lewis.

Congressman John Lewis.

America is broken and, in this brokenness, we need to name our ailments and tame them, accordingly. Reset our mindset! There are many who are content merely to be, but most find themselves emboldened now to ferociously participate in democracy, as a moral coalition.  Democracy is a life-long habit, and we must move ourselves beyond our immeasurable pain by exercising our full citizenship.

We recently lost two giants in the Civil Rights Movement, Reverend C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis. Who can readily undertake the roles these great humans embodied, giving so much of themselves, believing their shared moral obligation was to speak out and do something to allow America to lay down her burden of hate?

The journey ends with our last breath. Change begins with me. Creativity and vision are the secret of our liberation. Organization and divergent thinking must be signs of these times. This is our Kaïros—our nation’s critical moment.

These last several months have been the longest year of my life, and the most insightful, and I am ready to fully acknowledge this window of grace and be a proponent of change, to answer this deafening call to action.

We saw something, said something, and now we must finally do the right thing. Without oppression, there is no privilege.

Be bold and loud to let our votes count when they are needed most to move the Black Lives Matter Movement forward for the betterment for all. We need a government that works for everyone without prejudice.

As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Let us bend it towards justice, beginning here and now.

Shirelle Pearson

About Shirelle Pearson

Shirelle F. Pearson is a full-time group insurance advisor with the Marsh & McLennan Agency. She leverages knowledge she’s amassed over her 30-year employee benefits career, which encompasses work with an international insurance carrier and human resources. She is also an Adjunct Professor in the School of Management at the New York Institute of Technology. Giving back to the community is important to Pearson. As an AD/HD caregiver, she volunteers time to CHADD of Nassau County in the capacity of Coordinator and Treasurer, and shares information with individuals and organizations to help others understand the untold beauty of this complex condition. She also volunteers as Director of Programs with the New York Metro Area of the International Society of Certified Employee Benefits. Pearson received her undergraduate degree from Adelphi University and her Masters from Dowling College. An avid knowledge seeker who keeps an open mind, she is currently pursuing her Certified Employee Benefits Designation. (Author Photo: Selfie!)
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26 Responses to Bewildered & Black

  1. Avatar Donita Diggs says:

    As I read your article, one of the statements that rings loudest in my ear is that “COVID gave America that much needed wake-up call that she needed to realize that she is not as great a nation as she pretends to be.”. It’s so true. Although many lost life, it gave us uninterrupted time to reflect and mobilize. Thanks for sharing, your analysis and insight is needed and gives me much to think about!

  2. Avatar Shirelle F Pearson says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed my piece. Thanks so very much for your thoughtful comments!

  3. Avatar Will says:

    Shirelle Pearson, your essay delineates well the path to our current critical moment; you’ve managed to find in this moment a source for hope and sense of possibilities to be realized. These pandemic months have left me often despairing of any such hopeful future – but your words provide a way of seeing and working toward a future that is far more fair, immensely more equal, and genuinely democratic. Thank you for contributing this essay to this issue of Weekly Hubris.

  4. Avatar FTheresa Gillard says:

    Shirelle – “This is our Kaïros—our nation’s critical moment.” Right there. That’s it.
    FTG

  5. Avatar Andrea W says:

    Beautiful , elegant, and powerful. I love your perspective and the analogies you draw to paint the picture of the injustices too many people refuse to see, hear orand acknowledge. Thank you for raising your voice and encouraging others to fight the cycle of injustice and oppression✊

  6. Avatar Christine Percoco says:

    This piece by Shirelle Pearson is thought- provoking and very well done.
    It is a sad commentary on our society that it takes a global pandemic and
    a senseless murder (on film) for our people to take stock of ourselves.
    May God use these tragedies in a way that changes the country for the better- and brings it more in line with His Kingdom on earth.

  7. Avatar Sonia Codling says:

    Well said Ms. Pearson!!
    Thanks for taking the time to so eloquently put together what most of us are feeling. You took us on a journey, a “rough ride” but a needed reminder that we all must get and “keep moving “…complacency is not an option.

  8. Avatar Shirelle F Pearson says:

    Will,

    Thanks so very much for your comments! Blessings!

  9. Avatar Shirelle F Pearson says:

    Theresa,

    Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts!

  10. Avatar Shirelle F Pearson says:

    A.J.,

    Thanks so much for your beautiful comments!

  11. Avatar Shirelle F Pearson says:

    Chris, Thanks for reading my article. These are truly sad times, but I stay in faith that all will come together for our nation’s good. I appreciate your comments!

  12. Avatar Shirelle F Pearson says:

    Thank you, Sonia! Complacency is not an option! Upward and onward!

  13. Avatar Irene Caniano says:

    Shirelle Pearson’s thorough and passionate article heightened my understanding of the experience of Blacks in our country and of the urgency for ridding America of racial injustice. The numerous events she cited were glaring contradictions to the values we profess to uphold. May all of us heed her timely call to action and vote for the change that can repair our brokenness.

  14. Avatar Shirelle says:

    Irene, thanks so much for your eloquent comments. I know we will move pass this for the betterment of our nation, and can truly be considered the United States of America. Blessings.

  15. Avatar Mary Rogers says:

    Shirelle, Your piece is piercing, poignant and a compelling personal testimony to the many generations of suffering and pain endured by our Black and Brown brothers and sisters. Racism is a disease, with structural racism as the cancer eating away at our democracy for centuries, damaging the hearts, souls and minds of all Americans, as the forces of power and greed fuel the fire of fear and hate to maintain the divisions between us. By working together, we can take these walls down as you say, by “lead[ing] with love and kindness, understanding our diversity.“ Thank you for writing this!

  16. Avatar April Turner says:

    What a powerful article! Social media could benefit from your wisdom and strong voice. John Lewis said that Emmett Till was his George Floyd, Jr. History just keeps repeating itself. Not enough action has been taken to rectify the injustices suffered by people of color. This has to be it, this has to be our time for real change! I don’t want to ever have to have this conversation with my grandchildren where I’m citing George Floyd, Jr. to their “John XXX”. Thank you for your words. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts and ideas in future articles.

  17. Avatar Keith Carmichael says:

    The wording of your thoughts interlaced with the past and current events referencing systemic racism weave together, a message to all people of color, that change is needed in this country. It has come to my belief that the ideology of racism is so engrained into the very bedrock this country stands on, that a systematic reboot, encompassing education, finance and political inculsiveness, be prioritized. As disheartened as I am concerning the recent events to plague this nation and its lack of leadership, I am encouraged in process of moving forward. I have heard it sad that “what doesn’t kill you will inevitably make you stronger. You were “Spot On” stating that this Pandemic has “pulled back the curtain on America”.

  18. Avatar Jessica Kelly-Brown says:

    Shirelle’s piece is extremely thoughtful and succinct capturing a very complex series of topics. Reading this brought up all the emotions that I continue to feel. Those feels that now more than ever cause me to take more time to be thoughtful about my reaction and actions related to current events. Thanks for your brave authorship.

  19. Avatar Julie Kliers says:

    Shirelle, thank you for taking me through such a powerful and thought-provoking journey, deepening my understanding of such important black history and systematic racism in our country. “This is our Kairos!” Is such a touching and beautiful Sentiment.

  20. Avatar Doris says:

    Shirelle, Your article is well written clear and informative. I learned so much.
    Thank you soooo much for your insight. We need positive energy to get through tough time.
    You are the most positive and giving person.

  21. Avatar Van Smith says:

    It always amazed me how white people labeled Black people as animals, savages and uneducated beasts, when they hunted, terrorized, maimed, beat, raped and killed innocent people who were only guilty of trying to make a living and survival in a new, yet harsh, environment. They tell Black people to “go back to Africa.” Indeed, Black people have a land that is historically unique. However, America is NOT the home of the white person. Maybe they should go back to England, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy where their history is woven. So, yes, I stand with Shirelle and see the ignorance that still exists today. We say Black lives matter, they say All lives matter; however, when police say Blue lives matter, no retort is heard. And they call Islamic extremists who kill people terrorists, yet they call home-grown AMERICAN extremists gunmen. Dylan Roof, Omar Mateen, Robert Bowers and Stephen Paddock murdered a combined 127 innocent people in obvious acts of domestic terrorism, yet none of them are considered or referred to as terrorists. In order for change to happen, the double standards between Black and white, religions and white, and all white ignorance must be addressed, stifled, curtailed and a re-education process must occur. Thank you for your words Shirelle. Great article!

  22. Avatar Ty Dotton says:

    Well written, powerful, and on point!

    “We will not and cannot go back to being strange fruit, hanging from America’s trees” – powerful truth…

    It was very interesting to read your perspective on the topics you so eloquently touched on in this literary journey – thank you for sharing!

  23. Avatar Andre says:

    A passionate and moving take, by someone not normally prone to share openly. Thank you .

    I think the pie is one of the more deceptive things about America. It leaves several questions for me at least. Who made the pie? Where did the ingredients for the pie come from? How much pie is there actually available to give? Who should rightfully be offering slices of the pie and is the expectation that there is potentially a slice for everyone a realistic expectation?

    Better is not coming. We can go and get better but better is not coming. The people that have better have better because someone is representing their interest usually in a mutually beneficial relationship. If you don’t have people that represent your specific interest they’re of no value to you. Wherever people need better that’s where they must have representation. We need to find out where we need better and arrange to have representation there.

    COVID definitely helped give many people that were buried in their normal day to day movements an opportunity to stop and take a look at more than what is going on in their circles. Many people now realizing they’re misinformed or uninformed moved to enlighten themselves and I love that. Still some choose to embrace their own individual universes for fear that by adding a brick to a neighbor’s foundation it will somehow detract from their foundation (that … ). I mourn for the many lives lost and families negatively impacted by this crisis and pray that an end to the mass suffering is near.

    I’m both cautiously and optimistically hopeful that the newly enlightened and the young generation of protesters we have with us on the front lines will continue on in the proud and fearless manner we see them today.

    Thank you Shirelle for opening this much needed dialogue.
    Bless you all!

  24. Avatar Antonette Wint says:

    Very well written.

    The problem of racial injustice was fully expressed and with such powerful historical and present details that it cannot be ignored. Just as clear as the problem so was the solution(vote), supplemented by the hope that change will come.

    Great job on this article, Shirelle! I can’t wait to read the next one.

  25. Avatar Abda says:

    This article was sent to me by a friend and I must say, it was quite a refreshing read. Not only was it beautifully written, but the Black and Brown struggle was perfectly illustrated in various lights- from slavery up to the most recent events of police brutality. It’s an uncomfortable truth that needs to be spoken again and again.

  26. Avatar Shane Zwerman says:

    Shirelle, your eloquent words moved me. They also enlightened me to a perspective that, as a white person, I could never fully understand through my own eyes. I am deeply saddened by the horrific stories of injustice that replay in the news almost daily. The names are different, the details vary, but the inequality and lack of compassion for human life toward people of color in American society is a constant theme nearly every time. We are more alike than we are different and I stand with you, your family, your friends, and ALL people of color – ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! It is time for *lasting* change, and I sincerely appreciate you lending your voice with this article to the chorus of those demanding that change come now and forever. ALL LIVES MATTER!

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