I didn’t watch the video of George Floyd’s murder.
I didn’t watch the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, either.
Their dying breaths.
At the hands of White Authority.
Careless disregard for lives deemed less valuable, less worthy — just LESS — than their own.
I hide the videos as they pop up in my Facebook feed, even while I read the articles, the calls to action, the statements of outrage, and the cries of grief.
I hid the photograph of Alan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian refugee whose body washed up on the coast of Turkey after his boat capsized in the Mediterranean, too. And the picture of Oscar and Valeria Ramirez, the father and his toddler daughter who died trying to swim the Rio Grande from Mexico to a better life in the U.S.
And I can’t decide whether all the hiding means I’m selfishly protecting myself from the horror and gross injustice — an act of privilege since I don’t live the life of a person of color in the U.S. nor that of a refugee balancing peril and hope — or whether the “hide” click is an act of sacred solidarity with the mommies of those who are lost. Because I would never want video of my sons’ violent deaths to be internet fodder. Because I want to honor the stark grief and impossible pain of Ahmaud’s mama Wanda Cooper-Jones, and Alan’s mama Rehana Kurdi, and Victoria’s mama Rose Ramirez. I want to honor the sanctity of George Floyd’s cries for his dead mama.
But if I’m honest, it’s both. Both the privilege that exemplifies whiteness in this country — I can “hide” what’s horrific because it’s not embedded in the life I live or the air I breathe — and respect for these precious lives lost.
So I keep wondering if I should watch the videos. If I should see the photographs. If that’s its own sacred act of bearing witness to the monstrous, seething underbelly of our culture and the way it crushes people of color to retain its wealth and power.
I keep wondering what are the boundaries I need in order to maintain my own mental health versus where do I need to pull my head out of the sand?
On the one hand, with the advent of the internet, there’s too much constant access to every horrific event in the world. Our human brains can’t possibly cope with the firehouse of all of it, and trying to consume it all, all at once, will surely kill us. On the other hand, by not consuming it, we’re allowing others to die in our place from existing in the midst of the horror. If those of us with privilege corporately took off our blinders and LOOKED and FELT the repugnance and disgust and dismay inherent in the maltreatment, oppression, and abuses of our fellow humans, would we finally act? Is this what it means to die to ourselves that others might live? Is this what it means to have our hearts broken and remade in the Image of Love? Is this what it takes to put others first and fight for equity?
I don’t know, Diary. I don’t know whether I’m just a coward for hiding or a human whose heart is open to learn. Or, more accurately, I don’t know what percentage I am of each. 40% Coward and 60% Open? 99% Coward and 1% Open?
I don’t know.
But these are the questions running through my heart and my mind this week, and you’re my Diary, so you have to listen.
P.S. This post is all about ME which is a Classic White Person Blunder in responding to inequity. I want to acknowledge that, friends, while also noting that the COVID Diaries are just that — real diary entries — so they contain my real thoughts, even when they’re unflatteringly self-focused. However, here are some articles I’ve been reading and humans I follow who have Important, Helpful Perspectives instead of, you know, self-centered ones:
“I need white mamas to come running” — a CNN Opinion piece by Christy Oglesby
Everything by Ally Henny of The Armchair Commentary — the truths she writes make me uncomfortable on the regular, and that’s made me change, for which I’m grateful
5 Racist Anti-Racism Responses “Good” White Women Give to Viral Posts — FYI, my blog post above is guilty of the one about making this about me — #confession
How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibrim X. Kendi — because **hint** YOU ARE ALMOST CERTAINLY RACIST, and I am, too — it’s not enough to declare yourself “not racist,” you actually have to actively counter the insidious racism that permeates each of us and our culture
11 responses to “29 May 2020 — The COVID Diaries: Staying Sane in a Time That’s Not”
Another person here (me) who avoids seeing those things. I BELIEVE they happened; I don’t need to fill my brain with images. Those truths are lived by too many people and I don’t want to be guilty of rubber-necking as I pass by. Isn’t that sort of what the first two guys did in the story of The Good Samaritan? So the question is, how do we BE that Good Samaritan? Jen Hatmaker had an Instagram post with a list of black women she recommended following, and I did it. Today I spent time reading what those women posted and watching/listening to their videos. My IG feed is now filled with their voices. Book recommendations are lining up. This is going to be hard work because generations of racism have caused a lot of suffering, while that same racism has enabled me to have an easier life. But when my mental health can take it, I’m committed to putting in the work to listen and learn and to share their words.
I accidentally saw an 11-second video clip of bystanders begging the officers to check Mr. Floyd’s vitals. I nearly vomited.
waving in the dark <3
you haven't written in a few days – hope you're okay <3
Every night, I put my child to bed. And then every night, I head out to support the protestors. I’m in Portland. I can tell you that there are a handful of troublemakers, but most of the people in the streets (even after curfew) are still peaceful, still working towards awareness and social justice and solidarity. My husband checks with me before I go: do you have your mask? is the number of our lawyer friend written on your arm? do you remember that milk and water help with tear gas? I can tell you that these protests have no head organizer. This is an uprising. It is definitely a younger group at night. I’m clearly one of the oldest and I’m not over forty. We are trying to keep social distancing, we are trying to make our voices heard. We are talking and writing and walking. But no–we don’t need to watch videos of any more bodies brutalized to know that our structural racism needs to be dismantled NOW.
I can’t watch because of the helplessness. Why should I open myself up to pain I have no way of resolving?
The stuff I’m doing – educating the next generation to respect all humans as made in G-d’s image, and to recognize injustice, and responding to the internet chats where my voice is heard – seems so useless and insignificant in the bigger picture.
Watching it will just make me rail futilely at the screen, begging for change but not knowing how to make it.
Joining riots as a way of venting that outrage and frustration does not seem to be to be a productive way to engender change.
But my own small and hopefully growing corner of peace just feels so small.
I don’t know what to do either. I don’t know, beyond teaching my children.
I don’t tell my children we’re color blind. I teach them about how color impacts people’s lives in ways that are constant and hard. I teach them about how humans in general are uncomfortable and afraid of people who are different. I teach them that they will have those feelings sometimes, and they need to be aware of them and actively work against them.
I thought I wasn’t racist until I moved to Cincinnati Ohio and found myself confronting my own privilege on a daily basis. That was when I realized that “Not hating black people” isn’t enough. That was when I learned through personal witness about structural racism, grinding poverty, school to prison pipelines, and all the ways America stacks the deck against people.
Now, I teach my children. I teach them that we can do what we can by voting for what’s best for everyone, not just ourselves. I teach them to look at all the sides of an issue, to be sure of accurate information, but to then be willing to condemn a side. And not just the one that is “other.”
It’s not enough, probably. But it’s all I have to offer so far.
My religion has a scripture that helps me keep things in perspective, “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.”
Thank you for the links to these other articles Beth. As I watched those videos of Ahmaud and George being killed I felt myself being pulled to jump and run toward them, to knock that damn cop off George’s neck, to render aid to Ahmaud…..watching what happened to those men, and reading about all the others who have died at the hands of racism, bias, evil….I felt helpless….I witnessed the bystanders yelling…”check his vitals” “he’s not resisting/responding”, I watched in horror as the cops and EMTs rolled him over and threw him on the gurney…..another bystander “check his vitals! Someone start compressions!” THEY DIDN’T! I’m still shaking. This mama, this human, felt every raw emotion on a spectrum of absolute wailing grief, anger, outrage, helplessness. In watching i learned that everyone needs to see this so we can make a change! So that no human ever has to be denied their basic right to life and dignity in ANY situation. This has to stop! I am motivated to do whatever the community of color asks of me to do….what all humans need….worth and equality in and through the eyes and hearts of all others. My heart is broken with all the broken hearts of all people suffering such tremendous injustice and pain. I can’t even find the words for the visceral and primal pain this all evokes. There must be a calling in this collective pain….a calling- a call to action, action, change, love, equality. Now.
I don’t watch the films either and I avoid the heartbreaking photos. I feel like I don’t have the strength to look at them without breaking, and I worry about voyeurism because not everyone is watching them with sadness and disgust. I am the same when I read about atrocities abroad in “far off lands” (the same people who need our help) – I can’t sleep because I can’t bear what is now inside my head. Can we help without watching, act without having to know every horrific detail?
I have just finished reading Samantha Power’s memoir, Education of an Idealist. What amazed me was that from the start of her adult years she felt able to DO something about what was going on. Other than an interview with her, and her book, I don’t know anything about her so I am taking her book at face value. Her tenacity and self-belief were astounding to me. And, yes, I realise she was starting from a more priviledged place than many of those she sought to help.
I find it hard to know what I can do to change any of the problems the world faces. I have spent my whole life avoiding confrontation but I still want to know how I can help.
Beth – Just because you cannot find the perfect words, please don’t stop writing
Atlanta mayor last night during riots here:
I am in the dark. Quarantine reactions vary, but I am darkening b/c I am struggling. Seeing the world rioting is hard. Knowing what to do is hard. But hearing her speak was hopeful.
As a Black woman, Beth, let me just say that I am hiding, too. For different reasons, but I hide as well. It just hurts too much. It hurts to much to know that my people will never be safe here. This is the only home we know and we will never be safe in it. How do you heal from a trauma that is still occurring – is an ever-present open wound? You can’t. It festers – it gets angry, it weeps.
I don’t need to see the terminus of racism to know that it still exists, so I don’t watch those videos. I will never voluntarily witness the tragic and unjust end of an innocent life. So you have my permission to hide, Friend – not that you need it! Hide from the horror of it, but then figure out how to be a part of the healing. That’s what we need. Not lip service, not posts, not commiseration, but active allies. The time for thoughts and prayers alone is far past.