I don’t know about you, but many people in my circles certainly had high hopes for the new decade going into January, 2020. The New Year’s celebrations had a different feel to them: so much hope and optimism and excitement – some people just wanted to party, but others wanted the fresh start that they thought a new decade could bring. It seemed strange to me in a way, this reframing of our experience to specify the next bundle of ten years as being something to uplift us; strange as it mingled with my pessimism. But also, I was on board – sure, why not, we can all use some reason to hope.
The folks who shared that perspective with me are a bit quieter now. Covid fear and death that blatantly emphasizes inequalities; polarizing economic turmoil that stresses the gulfs that exist between people in America; viral videos that show the sick wielding of white privilege and power by the heartless. America is hurting, America is trembling. We started this decade with a slap in the face – or rather, slap after slap after slap… but the kindling has been building for many, many decades. What’s different now is that a greater number, and those not used to it, are feeling the sting on their cheeks. This is the driest of dry seasons, and a spark has come.
If I’m going to be honest, I prefer this to the optimism and excitement. I’d rather the terrible truths come into the light at long last, the rage boil to the surface, the stark contrast between the cliffs and the chasms realized. We have to look these issues in the eye – no more glancing away, focusing in the other direction. “Turning a blind eye” is a misleading phrase because something triggers you to turn: something to which you are not blind. It’s like the phrase “I don’t see color.” Stop pretending. Ignorance is not a savior, nor should it be bliss. We have to ask why. We have to reflect on how we each fit into this, and how we are going to change. Because anything other than change is unacceptable at this point.
Covid-19… the catalyst. The numbers don’t lie: it is here (in every State), it is real (over 100,000 deaths in the U.S.), and it is not going away (rising numbers, 2+2=4). The virus has hit our economy hard, that is indisputable, and it has unequally taken its toll. As water will collect in the low ground following a flood, leaving the high ground to recover, some can be quick to ignore Covid, to forget it even in its midst, while others quite simply drown – this is as undeniable as gravity.
When life is upended, when the everyday is forcibly redefined, it’s only natural to want to go back to normal, and in so doing, to move on, to forget. But not everyone can do this, and if you are doing it, that speaks to your privilege. Remember the truths that you glimpsed before turning to look in the other direction. Remember that you aren’t blind to this, even if you are choosing to pretend. Please, let’s all acknowledge reality and allow ourselves to pause in life so that we can do the right thing.
In the midst of the pandemic, more videos showing blatant hate, the manipulation of black people through white privilege, and horrifyingly cold-hearted murder have stopped hearts across the country and world – and then set them to racing. If people hadn’t before, they now see that our history is not a thing of the past and we haven’t been able to learn from it, to grow and change from it… our history is our present, though it might look just a bit different.
Racism is ingrained in our society as a whole. The amount of hate, and the things people do in the name of it, is something that has always plagued our country – no new bundle of 10 years will make it simply go away, nor should it. In the past two weeks, two men in California have been lynched. Yes, that still happens, and yes, it is still a disgusting and beastly act of individuals who lack any semblance of compassion and clearly have a spiderweb-filled cavity in their chests.
But no one can deny that this time it’s different. America is reacting, America is trembling, America is grasping for a handhold. I see the numbers of white people, myself included, out in the streets protesting right now; I see the posts that white people make on social media – in horror, in exhilaration, in guilt – and I feel so conflicted. Only time will tell if it is genuine, or if we will fall back into our privileged lives once the headlines focus on other things, and once the tide of covid recedes.
People seem desperate to prove that they are allies, that they have hearts, that they are not racists. Okay, but please do so in ways greater than posting protest selfies online, please do so with lasting intention – that is the only way for it to be meaningful. Actively resisting racism in this country, something that is so systemically present, is a lifelong commitment. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve made clear, I am white, and I have so much work to do. I just hope that as people define their “new normal” in the coming months, they will take this into consideration.
Another reality to acknowledge: ALL black lives matter – black trans lives matter as well, along with their unanswered calls for help that sluggishly echo into an endlessly disheartening vacuum… Just this week, two murders have shaken the black trans community, and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton deserve to have their names known.
That makes at least 14 deaths of trans or gender non-conforming people so far this year – and when I say deaths, I mean violent deaths, deaths that were clearly done by those who deemed their actions as necessary, and those who in all likelihood feel proud for successfully completing their missions. Well, to them I say: it is not your month to feel pride, so you can go back to the gutters you came from while we march down the streets (albeit virtually this year) with our rainbows and compassion, claiming our humanity in the act of loving one another for all of our differences.
Yes, there was a huge victory this week: the Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ+ people are protected under federal civil rights laws. That is fabulous – the law is now behind us nationwide if we choose to be out in the workplace. Thank you. It brings some hope, restores some faith in our country, will go down in history as undeniable progress. And it would be remiss to not specifically express deep gratitude to the black activists of the Civil Rights Movement who paved the way to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – and to our victory this very week.
But unfortunately, Supreme Court rulings don’t have the ability to flip a switch in people’s minds. If we’re going to be honest, people’s actions won’t really change because of this ruling. Many will still make the decision to keep their identity a secret around their colleagues, and I’m sure there will be some form of backlash rising in the ripples from this heaved stone – the bigger the stone, the bigger the ripples. There is still murder, there are still hate crimes, there is still discrimination, there is still unacceptable disregard for LGBTQ+ populations – like the blow that came just a few days before the Supreme Court ruling: transgender health protections reversed by the Administration… The work is not done.
As we navigate these covid days that turn into months, filled with up and down emotion, saturated with both a bit of hope and extreme doubt and sadness, there is still a lot to appreciate. Even though I tend to lean towards pessimism, I acknowledge that we’ve come very far, and the people who got us here – with their sacrifices and tireless devotion – are absolute heroes. I also know first-hand that, while the U.S. has so many horrors, this is a massive world, and our country focuses on equality and protects civil and human rights and liberties more effectively than others. I am grateful for that.
While there is a long road to equality ahead, we need to take the slow progress as motivation to keep paving the way. The key now is to look at the road that brought us here, understand the ‘why’ of our current situation, look the issues directly in the eye, and be bold enough to be the change, to clearly define our own more-inclusive morals, and then live our lives by them, day in and day out…
1) Educate yourself. Ask questions. Admit your ignorance. Recognize differences. Recognize their beauty and power. Connect with new people, especially those in your community, your neighbors. Ask to hear their stories. Have conversations. Intentionally open your mind and diversify your perception of reality. Grow.
2) Participate. Vote. Vote every time. Vote in the biggest to the smallest elections. No matter what else you can or cannot do, please vote. If you can, get out on the streets in support. Write. Speak. Make art. Consume art. Actively resist racism, discrimination, hate. With your own hands, add a paving stone on the path to equality. Oh, and also vote.
3) Don’t forget. Live by a new normal. No more turning away from the truth. Look it in the eye. Acknowledge it, and the way you fit into it. Let that truth guide you. And do your best to keep your chin up ❤
There can be no returning to the way things were before this decade. We’ve seen so many in the country slapped awake (and if you haven’t been, then you should kindly ask someone to slap you). Fires have raged, fires still rage… So let’s run with the spark that has finally ignited our dry, kindling-filled world, let’s finally leap forward, let’s take this next bundle of ten and do something with it.