“I can’t breathe.” ~ George Floyd.
Pockets of the United States have descended into chaos in the week since Floyd died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee into the 46-year-old black man’s neck. ~The Washington Post
“Peace on the left, justice on the right.” As if to say the two must go hand in hand. ~Terrence Floyd, George Floyd’s younger brother.
I’m having a hard time concentrating. I want to say something about what has happened, about racism; I want to speak out against the grave injustices of this world, but there is so much I do not know I’m afraid I’ll get it wrong. I don’t want to offend by not saying the right thing, but I feel a tug, an incessant urging to say something and get over myself, and people are dying – so.
I realize that as an advocate for those with Down syndrome and the disability community, there is one core tenant of advocacy that I hold dear: the view that all human beings are equal. That I hold people with equal weight in my head and my heart. I believe in this mantra, we are equal, we are one, but if what has happened and reading the news and following threads on Twitter has taught me anything, it is that there are just some things you cannot see unless it is happening to you. I am not a black man or a black woman, and so I can’t speak to that experience; I can only seek to educate myself as to how people of a darker skin colour than mine inhabit the world. I want to know. And I don’t want or seek to speak for black people – or a person of any skin colour – any more than I desire to speak on behalf of the disability community. As an able-bodied white woman, I can be but an ally, a supporter. I would like to declare myself as such. That means I am actively going to seek out a black perspective in the books I choose to read for myself and for my children, in who I choose to follow, in the diversity of the people I admire and learn from. The more we know about each other, the more we know about ourselves. The more we see ourselves in the other, the more fully human we become, I believe.
And sometimes I get so angry about the way we, society, treat skin colour; the same way I feel angry about how people are judged based on their cognitive ability. The amount of melanin in a person’s skin; the count of a person’s chromosomes; the size of their frame; the sex or gender of their partner. These factors do not define the person as a whole. We are more than our bodies. We are beings of heart and soul. And our bodies, in all their shapes, sizes, orientations, limitations, colours and creations are beautiful; we are flowers, the fruits and labours of love. And my soul is aching, wholly aching, for the pain needlessly caused because of hatred for ‘the other’.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King said that. I saw those words written on the side of a building once and they said something to me about how I felt deep down inside. I’ve mentioned those words before, but they come back to me now because there are injustices occurring everywhere and I can’t pretend – don’t want to pretend – I don’t see. There are so many people whom I love and care about who have black skin: people I’ve worked with and who are in my family, who’ve married my friends and who are my friends; people I write with or who live in my neighbourhood and I don’t want to let them down. If I have a voice anyone is listening to, then I want to use it for good. We have that choice. Those of us with privilege.
I don’t believe in black and white narratives of good guys and bad guys. That all bad guys are white and good guys are black, or vice versa. There are black men who have done wrong and black men who have become president and done so much right. There are white men who have done right and there are white men who have done so much wrong and become president. Privilege. Power. Those who abuse it. Those are truths I believe in. I don’t believe in black or white narratives, but I do believe in things I can’t see, that can only be felt. I do believe in a racism so ingrained in our society, we can’t even pinpoint it, but we can feel it; we know it exists and we cannot sit idly by. Because when it slips out, becomes seen, it is deadly.
George Floyd is killed on camera for the world to see; and we do see it, we see it plain as day, right there on the street. “You’re killing him, stop!” wasn’t enough. Simply asking wasn’t enough. His murder is a crime against humanity. Against men and women, mothers and children everywhere. George Floyd was somebody’s son. He was once held, a babe, safe in his mother’s arms against her warm chest. One of his final words was “mama,” he cried for her, for help. Nobody saved him. A man took his life. And now we are left to weep. We are left to weep and wonder what could I have done? We rightly wonder, what can I do differently now?
We can raise our voices to denounce hate. Even the hate lurking that we cannot see. We can actively seek out the voices of the other. What do black activists have to say? Those are the voices I want to lean in to right now. Those are the voices who have my ear.
And if you aren’t an ally to the other, you aren’t an ally of mine.