During this time of racial awakening in America, I admit that there’s a certain nervousness that sets in. It’s the kind of nervous anticipation that one feels after receiving good news but knowing that the news comes with multiple contingencies. Just like hearing the unexpected news that you’ve come into an inheritance only to learn that there are several provisos attached—if all the contingencies aren’t met the inheritance may be lost. The prospect of a post-racial future is the potential inheritance of America, provided the many distractions and sidebar issues don’t detract us from our goal.
Today the distractions are so numerous that it’s a wonder we are able to focus on a singular issue at all. No one could have predicted the kind of year that 2020 was going to be, yet it just so happens that the right set of circumstances allowed for this awakening to take place. After a nationwide sequestering, most people were not only anxious for a change, but for a reprieve. Businesses were closed, sporting events were shut down, and most forms of entertainment-- save for endless hours of online streaming—were severely limited. For months the only news was more of the same. We waited for a sign that things would soon return to normal.
But we understood that a new normal was to come. A global pandemic has forced us to come to terms with the fragility of daily consumerism. The diverting nature of modern life has been a privilege so easily taken for granted. And privilege is a thing that often carries a numbing effect because it frees us from worry. When the privileged are deprived of the usual contrivances, the numbing effect suddenly wears off; therefore, one’s eyes are opened.
It’s at that moment that awareness takes hold, and we can see things for what they are. Racism has always been there. So has political and institutional injustice. So has police brutality. So have economic, educational, and health disparities always been there. The onset of a global pandemic did not erase those truths, it merely illuminated them all the brighter. That white America seems to have collectively acknowledged these truths does not altogether validate them. In fact, there are some that will stay quiet, some that will persist in ignorance as a coping mechanism. But their silence does not tear the truth from its roots. If a thing is true, it is true despite contrary opinions or beliefs. The quintessential core of truth is its absoluteness. Otherwise, truth is far too malleable and subject to the will of an individual who may change his or her mind at any given moment.
That is the danger inherent to who we are as people. Be it matters of race or anything else, we are fickle creatures. We are at times swayed by popular opinion so effortlessly. Like sands along the shoreline, a wave hits and carries us away. A new wave of black racial sentiment has swept the country, but if we don’t root ourselves in the truth, another wave will come and carry us in a different direction.
There are always people who co-opt the truth for their own selfish devices. Black leaders, celebrities, or people of influence in the black community may simply seize the current sentiment to achieve their own ends. But this doesn’t matter— if we accept that the actions of a few individuals aren’t representative of the people as a whole. The murder of George Floyd and so many others is no less egregious as a result. Racially motivated atrocities are evil no matter what. So is the complicity of those in positions of authority who do nothing to stop it. When law enforcement officers rationalize excessive force against an unarmed individual, it’s an abuse of power. If they cover for one another in the wake of an abuse due to a shared code of silence, it’s unethical. These things are well understood if one is firmly planted in the truth. There will always be situations in which the use of force will be necessary—but this was not one of them. If one were to ask what constitutes force as an irrationally extreme measure, the answer would assuredly be the use of asphyxiation over a forged twenty-dollar bill. The truth is abundantly clear.
We may breathe a sigh of relief over this clarity, and we may rush to celebrate it. Yet there is another truth that shouldn’t be overlooked. The grief from the loss of countless lives to racial injustice and brutality is palpable and longstanding. That it took this long for so many others to take note is just as grieving. Grief itself is crucial to the healing process. When a family member dies, one feels pain from the loss. There is a sweetness to the pain in honoring that person’s memory, even in reflecting on their faults and shortcomings. In death, we often choose to remember a person in light of their aspirations and strength of character. This is because we know that holding on to trespasses or past mistakes is of no consequence—it only robs the survivor of peace. The truth is that grief and lament can be painful, yet cathartic. We have to grieve over racial injustice, we must accept it and dwell in it for a time.
We must also recognize that condemning others to a life of criminality is dehumanizing and damning. It has been easy to dismiss the over-criminalization of black men as a necessary tactic against crime itself. Past incidents of police brutality have been consistently rationalized in this way. Mass incarceration has depicted black men in the public eye as fundamentally untrustworthy. As such, neighborhood crackdowns and hyper-inflated police budgets have been deemed justifiable. But the truth is that anyone pressed long enough by the thumb of the law will operate in constant desperation. Anyone subject to perpetual neighborhood surveillance or police oversight, knowing that the use of force is the modus operandi—those living under such circumstances do so in constant fear. Fear drives us to make irrational choices, and it produces anxiety, frustration and anger. Seething anger under pressure almost always implodes, and civility becomes of no real concern.
The festering anxiety of knowing that one’s life doesn’t matter causes one wallow to in shame and despair. Black people have had to negotiate for the acceptance of their lives as containing intrinsic value. And having to argue over the merits of this basic human principle is not only maddeningly absurd, it is physically, emotionally, and psychologically exhausting. The most fundamental of truths is that black lives have always mattered. They always will. Whether commodified as a utility or perceived as subhuman---black lives have been deemed far from precious for most of modern history. But the truth is that not only do black lives matter, but black lives are precious in the sight of the Creator. This truth will stand as absolute through the many paradigms and eras of human history.