Black lives matter, absolutely and unequivocally. It’s a simple statement, and one that in a perfect world, would go without saying, but in the context of history and present circumstances, it’s something that needs to be said again and again. BLACK LIVES MATTER.
When four Minneapolis police officers acted as George Floyd’s judge, jury and executioner over an alleged non-violent offense, it was clear that they didn’t feel like George Floyd’s life mattered– and it’s a horrific outcome that would very likely have been avoided if George Floyd had been white. The same goes for Breonna Taylor (May 2020), Philando Castile (July 2016), Ahmaud Arbery (February 2020), Trayvon Martin (February 2012), Botham Jean (September 2018), Michael Brown (August 2014), Ezell Ford (August 2014), Michelle Shirley (October 2016), Stephon Clark (March 2018), Laquan McDonald (October 2014), Eric Garner (July 2014), Tamir Rice (November 2014), and hundreds of others just in the past ten years alone. Many of these people were direct victims of police aggression, but it could also be said that they and their families are victims of a deeply entrenched system that places less value on the lives of non-white people. While white parents tell their kids to simply “stay out of trouble”, many parents of black children have to give explicit instructions on just staying alive during casual encounters with the law. Keep your head down, your hands up, don’t make any sudden movements, do what he says. And even that oftentimes isn’t enough. “How not to get murdered by the police” is not a required lesson for most white children growing up.
To be fair, while a lot of the anger out in the streets of America is directed at the police, when that knee collapsed George Floyd’s trachea, it was only a long extension of an entire system built on oppression, exploitation, and violence that has advantaged some way over others, and it creates a dangerous condition for officers of the law and citizens. I’m sitting behind my laptop watching out a window on a quiet street sipping coffee and listening to music pouring my heart out onto a digital page. Would I want to be in that uniform, with the gun and badge and today or yesterday or last year? That would be a hard no. I don’t have that kind of bravery to be the first responder to walk into a strange house in a strange situation with people doing who knows what, undergoing unknown stress. I’ve lived nearly my entire life in Alamance County, and I’ve seen the stark divides. Society always needs law enforcement, and I salute those who are legitimately there to keep the peace, and who are committed to protect and serve.
Yet this is much more than just about this one awful tragedy– it is about a long history of a young nation whose foundation is built with the bricks of these tragic events, and that anger is seething and palpable in a time of great uncertainty.
I know…it’s 2020. We’ve got robots that can vacuum our homes, self-driving cars and tiny supercomputers in nearly every pocket. It’s been over 150 years since slavery was outlawed in the US, and we went into the 2010s with the nation’s first African American president. It doesn’t seem like “BLACK LIVES MATTER” is a phrase that should be controversial or up for discussion at all. It should go without saying. But even as we live in a technological future, it’s clear that we’re still stuck with the grim ghosts of our past.
Read this aloud: “White privilege is real.” Even if a white person is born into generational poverty the same as many people of color, that white person will still always be afforded, from birth to their natural death, far more privilege, more opportunity, more chances, more suspicion of good intent and more trust than a person of color in most social interactions. This is something perhaps difficult for white people to acknowledge, but it’s a fact. It might not be your fault, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. We as a people must strive to recognize when we see implicit or cultural bias in ourselves, and we must hold each other to higher standards to ensure that all are treated with equal dignity. And that starts with recognizing that BLACK LIVES MATTER. Right now, that is the house that’s on fire. It’s been on fire for a long time, and it’s just been part of the American landscape for so long, we sometimes barely notice it’s there.
Amongst each other in Saxapahaw and amongst our coworkers at the General Store, we’ve had some very deep and meaningful conversations about our place in the world, and about our responsibilities as individuals and as a company, and I’m not here to fill your ears with feel-good marketing noise. You’ve got enough of that. When I have written articles about how the store addresses the threat of coronavirus in our community, it was easy. Face masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, extra cleaning. We’ve got guidelines from the CDC and other public health organizations that provide straightforward answers. With institutionalized and systemic racism, bias, and privilege, there are no easy answers. There will one day be a vaccine for Covid-19, but there will not be a pill or a shot to cure hatred, intolerance, and ignorance. The only medicine for that will have to come from the bravery to examine ourselves and to stand up for injustice in all its forms.
However…much like coronavirus, racism is an infection in the population that can spread quietly with a wide range of symptoms. It’s very possible to have it and not even know.
The one thing that is certain is that we cannot be complacent with the status quo. Not while a system that should have died long ago is still reaping the lives of innocent people with little recourse or ACTUAL REAL CHANGE. Not while people protesting against police brutality and tyranny are met with more brutality and tyranny. Not while there is so much inequality and inequity that disproportionately falls onto the necks of people of color. It’s time to get out of your comfort zone and to learn. See new points of view. Make new friends. Try to understand and empathize with things that you don’t understand. Have those hard conversations, and they’ll inevitably lead to easy conversations. Find where your biases lie and discover how you can change them. Support people and organizations who are working for change. Support black-owned businesses. Support a new way of operating, because the old way doesn’t work anymore.
Here is the part of the article when you might be expecting me to declare that the General Store has some grand plan of action to wipe out racism, but that’s not the case. This problem is way bigger than any of us, but together, one tiny pebble at a time, we can move mountains.
The Saxapahaw General Store is a place for all, but we have no room for hate. Not ever, but especially right now. Now is the time to lift each other up, and for all of us to re-examine our relationships to each other, to our systems of power and to the planet we live on.
This is just the beginning of the discussion, not the end, and we are eager to learn. Let us know about local black-owned farms, artists, and businesses that we should support that might not be on our radar. Help us understand what we can be doing better. We can’t pretend that the sins of previous generations have been miraculously cleansed and that the past doesn’t continue to shape and affect us in ways that aren’t always clear. Not when we can see the prejudices passed down to us right in front of our eyes. It’s a lot to process, and it can be absolutely exhausting, but it’s a necessary exercise in personal and social growth. Sometimes you may not always know what to say, but there comes a time when silence is not an option.
So I’ll say it again. BLACK LIVES MATTER. Period.