It was hard for me to stand in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
And yet the conditions of nice weather on a sunny afternoon should have made it easy. I was there in a grassy field, with hundreds of others, and music was playing.
But it was hard, because it made me think – really think – about why I was there, why this crowd was gathered.
At one rally after another, across the country, people like you and me, black and white and brown, have gathered to remember the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, as a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
That afternoon, I was a bit uncomfortable. Tears welled up as I thought about George Floyd calling out for his mama as he lay dying in the street.
It was hard for me to stand there, knowing that my people and I haven’t done enough to fix a huge problem in our country. That problem is systemic racism – meaning embedded in our systems, such as the judicial, educational, health care systems. For too long, those systems have not been fair to some of our fellow Americans, our fellow humans.
That has to change.
I’ve never been an activist. I never attended a protest of any kind. I never thought I could change anybody’s mind about anything. I have long used my career position as a shield: “I am a journalist and I can’t take a stand.”
That has changed. Over the past two weeks, I have attended five peaceful protests. I made signs and stood with strangers on the side of Hwy. 278 to protest inequality. I have shouted “Black Lives Matter” as I marched through Old Town. I have stood with black and brown people and raised a fist in solidarity. I believe “Enough is enough.”
Racial injustice is a difficult topic for many of us, especially those of us who are white. Especially those of us who have lived in the South our entire lives. Especially those of us who grew up with confederate flags as proud decorations on our relatives’ vehicles.
But we know it isn’t fair. If we have listened at all, we know our black friends, colleagues, neighbors, college students and even little kids have a vastly different life experience than whites do.
I’ve begun to understand the truth about white privilege. (For an excellent take on this topic, read an article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson, at Yesmagazine.org, titled “My White Friend Asked Me on Facebook to explain White Privilege. I Decided to be Honest.”)
I could jump on the common bandwagon of pseudo-understanding that proclaims, “I get it – I have a lot of black friends.” I do have a number of black friends, but that doesn’t mean I understand the depth of discrimination they have experienced their whole lives. It doesn’t excuse me from learning more, from having a conversation and asking them just what it is like to be black in America.
So what is the solution? How do we eradicate racism?
It seems to me that the best way to start is to come together and have conversations. These recent rallies and protests have provided great opportunities to do just that.
We white people need to stop talking for a while and just listen to what our friends of color are saying. We need to know what their lives are like, and what we can do to stand up and help them.
Then, we all need to act. We need to work together. We need to stand together. We need to vote. We need to make changes.
Now is the time. Now is the moment. Let’s turn this moment into a movement.