This is George Floyd’s face.
Most of us know of him from the viral video of his death under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis policeman. Or from the news media coverage this past week. Or from social media posts.
We deplore the killing. Of course we do. We know it should never have happened. And we know it was not new. White on black murder has been happening across our country for
years, decades, centuries: since the first African slaves arrived on our shores in 1619. To learn more of this aspect of our history, click here.
Killing of Black Americans in broad daylight has never ended. We whites lived our separate lives, often unaware. If it didn’t impact us directly, how would we know? And then the videos began to go viral and our world became smaller.
The four musings that I’d planned for this month came to an end. One cannot muse about racism. But I am not writing today about racism, institutional or individual. I’ve written about it, starting with my series on how do we talk about race? Here are the links to Part I, Part II, and Part III. If you put RACISM into the search bar on the right, you’ll find a few more posts on the topic. I imagine in the months to come, I’ll write more.
This week I’ve been thinking of the human tendency — perhaps need? — to create an out group, an “other,” a scapegoat.
Whether it is people with different skin, religion, language, or traditions, how common it is to have a “them” that we fear. A “them” that shows “us” we’re superior. These are the stories that too often fill our history books.
We have a very human need to know where we belong, to know THAT we belong. I think that’s not a difficult idea to grasp. Who is our tribe? What does it mean to be me? What does it mean to be part of an “us?” But for too many, in order for there to be an “us,” there must be a “them.” And once we have that “them,” it becomes easier to put human life and value in a hierarchy of importance. And “they” suffer accordingly.
If by some miracle people woke to the realization that race is no more than a social construct and black or brown skin does not predict anything you need fear, there will always be the next “them,” the next outcast, the next scapegoat. I wonder what it could be that would put an end to this eternal battle?
I’ve also been looking at the assumptions I make about people, the judgments I hold, the expectations I carry from a single observation.
What do I think of people who drive Harleys and rev their engines at every opportunity (not kindly, I assure you)? What do I think of those who expressed what I saw as an unfounded hatred of Hillary Clinton? (I was aghast) What do I think when those with red MAGA hats march?
Most recently, I jumped to a very clear conclusion when I saw people without masks at my local grocery store. I do it more often than I realize, and more quickly than I’m currently comfortable with. I observe; then I judge. We all do it. And I’m bothered that I judge not simply what I see, but what I conclude is the essence of the person. He is selfish, or ignorant, or a jerk.
And, when I saw the photo and read the story of the white women who formed a barricade between Black protestors and police in Louisville this past week, I felt proud, hopeful. And still I judged. This time, these people whom I did not know but for this single action, were good people, obviously intelligent, caring, kind. Judgments come in many varieties.
We make judgments all the time. Of course we do. How else could we vote?
We make assumptions about people we do not know and those we do. We evaluate what we see in positive terms, and negative. The question is, how often do we realize that’s what they are: judgments, interpretations, opinions, evaluations. And in every case, we could be wrong.
Why do we hold so tightly to our interpretations? From where does that fevered pitch arise? I’m thinking it’s fear.
When I ponder how we might balance our need to belong with the tendency to demonize as we judge that “other,” love comes through as the only possible answer.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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