Today, a friend, having seen Facebook-posted photographs of my birthday celebration three days ago, commented, “Clearly, you enjoyed yourself.” Without thinking, I replied, “Yes, it was a pleasant respite from the tribulations of the day.”
As I oft don’t know wholly where I am in my inner being until I hear myself say it (or see myself write it), I have been reflecting, seeking to unearth the unconscious intent behind my reply. I have discerned that, quite without being fully aware of it, I lived into my birthday celebration with relish as a breather, if for only a few hours, from my preoccupation with current issues. About these, daily, intensely, I think and feel, wonder and worry, ponder and pray, converse and write, and work; doing what I can where I am with what I have to make a positive, redemptive difference.
Ours is a time (indeed, I have come to believe, an era) of dual pandemics. One, viral. The other, racial. Each destructive.
The novel coronavirus pandemic, remaking the earth into a global Petri dish of infectious contagion leading to catastrophic illness and death, among many things, has:
Threatened the solvency of health care systems.
Wreaked havoc on lives dwelling in quarantine.
Upended ages-old norms of social conduct with directives for physical-distancing and non-in-person activity.
Shattered not the glass-ceilings, but rather what were thought to be the bedrock floors of commerce as businesses close, some permanently, with people thrown out of work and unemployment rocketing past Great Depression Era numbers.
Punctured that panaceaic-bubble of entertainment in shuttering the industries of the arts and sports.
There also is the loss of our illusion of the might of American-exceptionalism to mitigate the worst effects of a disaster.
The more ancient pandemic, racism, with the death, the murder of George Floyd, having come once again to the center stage of human consciousness has demonstrated afresh its insidious power. The measures of racism’s ruin are manifold, among them:
Foremost, in lives. People of color die and their families and friends grieve.
Many, across the spectrum of race and age, protest; some of the demonstrations damaging, devastating homes and businesses, lives and livelihoods.
There have been counter-protests, for me, symbolizing, embodying a calloused incomprehension of the pain of “the other.”
There also are the losses of our illusions. Among them:
“Things are better.” (No, they’re not.)
“We live in ‘a color-blind society’.” (No, we don’t.)
“America doesn’t have ‘a race-problem’.” (Yes, we do.)
“Racism is individual and situational and not systemic and institutional.” (It is both.)
“White people, generally and specifically, aren’t ‘privileged’.” (Yes, they are.)
Doubtless, I think, there are some (many?) people who would disagree with me on what constitutes illusory-thinking about race. This, for me, demonstrates that the subject of racism is deeply polarizing (which is also to say, it’s real, it exists).
Where we, as a world and as an American nation, go from here, I don’t know.
I do know that, at the age of 68, it is not likely that I will be alive some twenty to thirty years from now to read what historians will have written in their creation of a coherent narrative of this era, what happened and how.
Nevertheless, I have visions of hope. Of transformation of our societal status-quo that, resistant to change, persists in valuing white over black or brown or red or yellow in proffering free and open access to educational, vocational, financial, social, and residential opportunities. In a word, I have a vision of the society-wide confession and repentance of the sin of inequality based on race.
So, today, intensely, I continue to think and feel, wonder and worry, ponder and pray, converse and write, and work, doing what I can where I am with what I have to make a positive, redemptive difference.
© 2020 PRA