Sunday, May 31, 2020

Our vale of tears

I'm tired and exhausted. I'm angry and frustrated. And, even against the backdrop of a sadly and seemingly inevitable history, maybe even a little hopeful.

I didn't know I could feel so many emotions at the same time.

But the murder of George Floyd, yet another in an impossibly growing list of unarmed black people killed by over-zealous police who seem to be ignoring constitutional and civil rights, has unleashed these emotions. Again.

I say "again," because we've been here before. Too many times, in fact. A person my age can instantly recall images from the 1960s: of civil rights movements, the Harlem riots of 1964, the Watts riots of 1965, Chicago in 1968, and on and on it goes.

Why does it go on and on?

It's all rooted in racism, of course. In a country founded, in part, by the concept that all men are created equal and in a country supposedly sustained by Christian and Judaic values, we still have George Floyd. We still have Sean Reed. And Ahmaud Arbery. And Eric Garner. And Breonna Taylor. And Stephen Demarco Taylor, and Willie McCoy. And more. Many more.

All these people, supposedly equal under the law guaranteed by the 14th amendment, should have had the protection of the United States Constitution behind them (a constitution which, interestingly enough, was signed by 55 white male delegates, mostly wealthy property owners, and of whom 25 were slave owners. There might be a clue there – the ratification and perpetuation of America's Original Sin).

But they didn't.

Instead, all these people had is what seems like an empty promise. Incredibly enough, with a history of systemic oppression in this country dating back 400 years, most African Americans still pay their taxes (sometimes sustaining the very police enforcement that is killing them), they still vote (when it's not suppressed), they still serve their country (sometimes, without thanks).

We – all of us – should be angry. We should be frustrated. We know what the right thing to do is. Why are we not doing it?

With protests spreading nationally (even internationally. See Germany), I still see a window for hope. This feels different, somehow. The killing of George Floyd finally may have pushed us to a tipping point. The social unrest, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, may be the incentive it takes to change many social inequities. I hope so.

But history is a tough teacher. We never seem to learn from it. There was a World War II because there was a World War I (the Roman numerals speak for themselves); an unresolved Asian war in Korea in the 1950s was followed by an unresolved Asian War in Vietnam in the 1960s; an influenza pandemic in 1918 that had no vaccine and which was finally mitigated by wearing masks and maintaining social distance is requiring us to do the same thing now 100 years later.

When will we ever learn?

('Blowin' in the Wind,' written by Bob Dylan in 1962, is generally considered to be an anti-Vietnam War protest song. But nearly 60 years later, I think it serves us well as an anti-racism anthem. Dylan is for the ages).


  1. Bruce, the lyrics to the song in so many was are more appropriate today then they were in the 1960's. I wish I could say that this is going to be a wakeup call for us. I for one do not hold out a great deal of hope. If Sandy Hook did not shake us to the core and bring us out of this blind allegiance to things what hope do we have that this will be any different. I know this is a very pessimistic view and I try to make myself believe different but at this point I find it very hard to do.

  2. Well-said. Thanks for expressing more clearly what I wish I could.