I find myself asking this question a lot. When I think about the current state of our country, I instantly hear Childish Gambino’s “This is America” in my head. The incredibly catchy, yet haunting mix of choir and trap music plays like an anthem for the current disarray in our country. If you haven’t seen the “This is America” music video, with it’s many metaphors about race and gun violence in America, I highly recommend it. Warning: there are images some may find disturbing. Although Donald Glover released the song under his musical moniker, Childish Gambino, in 2018, it’s just as timely now.
Going into the the 2020 election, our country feels more divided than ever. We have people who support Black Lives Matter vs. people who retort with “All lives matter.” We have people who believe our doctors and scientists vs. people who put politics before science. We have people who wear masks knowing it will slow the spread of coronavirus vs. people who refuse to wear masks because they don’t want the government “telling them what to do.”
We call ourselves the land of the free, but maybe we’re taking this slogan too seriously. Somewhere along the way we lost our sense of community, and empathy for our fellow man. If you’re not angered by current events, then you’re not listening. Many choose not to, saying they don’t watch the news because it’s too upsetting. But if you ignore a problem, how can you find a resolution?
Let’s put politics aside for a moment. Because no matter what party you’re affiliated with, we can all do better. We have to do better. Although there’s many issues dividing our country right now, two of the biggest issues that stand out are responses to the Black Lives Matter movement, and responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
Say their names. We’ve heard so many names recently of lives senselessly lost to police brutality. Eric Garner. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. Alton Sterling. Jacob Blake. But this isn’t a new problem, which makes it all the more aggravating (remember Rodney King?). The history of systemic racism and police violence in our country is appalling.
I can’t begin to understand what people of color go through, because I was born white, and therefore was born with innate privilege. This year I saw my other white friends posting their black squares or instagram stories supporting the BLM movement, and I thought “That’s great, but is it enough?” Like many of my friends, I wanted to educate myself. I wanted to get a fraction of understanding. Then I found myself saying other names. Raymond Santana. Korey Wise. Kevin Richardson. Antron McCray. Yusef Salaam. Names unjustly branded as the Central Park 5.
If you’re like me, you may have also spent part of quarantine tearfully watching the series When They See Us, or Ken Burns’ documentary on the Central Park 5, now the Exonerated 5. We need to address the fact that we have a serious incarceration problem in our country. According to the NAACP, a black person is five times more likely to be stopped without just cause than a white person. Additionally, African American defendants are 22% more likely to have convictions involving police misconduct that eventually result in exoneration. So the next time you hear people say “All lives matter” I want you to ask them how many times they have unjustly been stopped by police because of how they look. No wonder people are angry.
I find the lack of empathy surrounding these issues disturbing. Likewise, I find people’s disregard for the coronavirus disturbing. I still see many Americans having large gatherings, and not wearing masks. And the our numbers continue to rise. This, too, shows a lack of empathy for your fellow man. We’ve been told by scientists, by infectious disease EXPERTS, that social distancing and wearing masks will slow the spread of the coronavirus and save lives. So why wouldn’t you wear one? This shouldn’t be about personal freedoms, it should be about caring for our communities, and our country, as a whole.
I realize that this post is tackling a lot of separate issues, and may read as a little disjointed. But isn’t that how the present state of our country feels? We have to do better. But how? I’m not going to pretend to know all the answers. All I can suggest is that instead of ignoring problems, we open up the conversation. Let’s talk to our friends and family about these issues. Let’s educate ourselves on the history of black oppression. Let’s listen to our friends of color and ask what we can do. Let’s use our voices for good. Let’s not let politics divide us. Let’s focus on being kind and compassionate. Let’s practice social distancing and wear masks to save lives. And in November, let’s vote.
The shirt I’m wearing is from Raymond Santana’s company Park Madison NYC. The shirts commemorate the Central Park 5, and other people who wrongfully serve prison time. Partial proceeds of the shirts benefit The Innocence Project, which fights wrongful convictions.
Photo Credit: H Westervelt Photography