The US is a Mess — We are a Mess
Safety and Convenience
When my aunt, a doctor, called to tell us that it was time to self-quarantine, it was about ten days before Colorado Governor Jared Polis said the same thing.
From my point of view, it was a gift. Throughout history, there have been countless tragedies. I considered COVID-19 a potential tragedy and was grateful for the early warning. I naively thought everyone would approach the recommendation with similar gratitude. I was wrong.
That was 2.1M cases and 118K deaths ago in the US. We’re approaching 7.8M cases and over 432k deaths worldwide. And still, some are reluctant to make concessions. There is a large percentage of people who fall in the “I have to work, this might not be that bad, I’m healthy, herd mentality, what about the economy, but the government, China, Bill Gates, personal freedom” category which is to say wearing a mask, social distancing, and safer at home seems inconvenient.
And since the last time they were inconvenienced was…never…they can’t be expected to cooperate now.
That’s who I think about when I contemplate racial bias and racism. I think about those who can’t even handle inconvenience. If they can’t wear a mask, social distance, or stay home to save someone’s life, understanding systemic oppression or white privilege is probably out of the question. I mean they weren’t there, and didn’t know the whole story, and most cops are good, right?
One of my friends has two daughters, roughly the same age as my children. Her family is black. Mine is white. She and I were talking about parenting during quarantine. In our suburban neighborhood, most families are doing it their way. Some are fully quarantining, and some are partly, some are sometimes, some aren’t at all. It’s pretty confusing, and the different approaches are hard to explain to our kids.
Speaking of things that are hard to explain to our kids, we’ve all seen the video of black parents instructing their children on how to respond to encounters with the police. But it’s not just looming indefinite police threats that black parents must anticipate, it’s the day-to-day insidiousness too.
Every single year of her girl’s academic careers, pre-school through fifth grade, one or both girls has come home from school one day upset because a friend or classmate touched her hair without permission, a violation on many levels.
With two daughters of my own, I feel infuriated when I think of anyone touching them. A little boy punched my little girl in the face in kindergarten, and I ran that situation up the chain of command real quick. I called the principle that night, incensed.
When my friend brought the hair-touching incident to the teachers at two schools for seven years in a row, she was met with indifference, denial, or outright hostility. And keep in mind, my friend doesn’t get to feel infuriated at the moment or call the principal that night. She must formulate a response, be utterly poised, address it appropriately, and document the entire exchange, or she’ll be branded as difficult, aggressive, or worse.
When she discusses it with her kids, she doesn’t get to be a sympathetic mom who automatically takes her kids’ side; she’s got to be a role model focused on keeping her kids safe. She doesn’t get to be impulsive, emotional, or angry, even in her own home, because if her daughters mirror that outside their home, it could jeopardize their lives.
The Next Right Thing
Our world is a messy, uncertain place. There’s beauty, and there’s pain, good and evil. The stock market rebounds while a march turns into a movement, COVID continues to threaten and disrupt, and none of it makes sense.
When we see the scale of a problem such as racism, how woven it is into the fabric of our country, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Like all systemic problems, they seem too daunting to take on at an individual level. Guns, poverty, human rights, food, politics, education, the environment, all of it seems so broken, and yet it almost always started for the same reasons — a group of people stacked the deck in their favor and protected their advantage at all costs.
So, what do we do? We start where we are, with what we have, we commit to more fully understanding, to starting at home and outside the home, and we do the right thing over and over again, even when it feels like it’s not enough or when we aren’t 100% sure if it’s the right thing.
And when we see injustice, and injustice is everywhere if we pay attention, we get involved. We don’t let our fear stop us from doing the next right thing, and we don’t let comfort be our goal (in anything).
In my business, I’m on a mission to empower women to live their best lives. Three years ago, when I started, it seemed like best was some version of happier, more successful, and more meaningful. Today, I’m not always sure what best refers to.
How dare we ask for more when the world is crumbling around us? How dare we choose ourselves when others need us so urgently? And, at the same time, why is it that women must always sacrifice and save others?
Certainly, we’ve got to do our part. As women, we can’t let men tell us what our role is or define what our actions mean. As mothers, we can’t accept anything less for anyone’s children than we would accept for our own.
Life is not a zero-sum game
I have a deep, deep faith in the Universe. I have never thought of that faith as privilege, but it is. I’ve never thought of dreaming with my whole heart as privilege, but it is. I have never thought about parenting as a white woman vs. parenting as a black woman, and that I haven’t thought of it is both embarrassing and makes me part of the problem. White privilege is both unconsciously enjoyed and consciously perpetuated.
I get it. Your life isn’t perfect, you don’t have everything you want, and your family struggles too, but nothing about racism is relative. If your response to any part of their experience starts with “well I…” or “at least I…” or “but I…” you have miles to go. We all do.
And I also get it if you are confused about the right action to take. When you feel the pressure of knowing you might do the wrong thing, so you do nothing? Doing nothing is the wrong thing. When faced with a hard choice, think of my friend’s story above, about how she can’t even let her guard down, in her own home, for fear of somehow unintentionally endangering her girls’ future.
If you want to listen, reflect, and formulate a plan, make sure the voices you are considering are coming from black or brown people. And, as in all areas you want to improve, ask yourself if waiting is the right strategy or simply procrastination.
Finally, if you are sitting on the sidelines judging everyone involved, me for writing this, the protestors for protesting, the racists for being racists, and the government for their response — this isn’t about you. It’s not about your comfort, convenience, timeline, or your judgment.
Now is a defining moment in our country’s history (again) because we forced an entire segment of the population to their breaking point (again). We continue to choose convenience every single time when it comes to race.
Sometimes, we can assume everyone is doing their best; this is not one of those times. Here we are — what a mess. We must accept responsibility for our part in it. What a mess, and, AND, what a beautiful opportunity to apologize and do better.