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
By Shirelle Pearson
“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.
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.
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.
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.