The events of this week have been difficult to stomach, as both an American and a human. But therein lies the point — these aren’t singular events, disturbing as though they may be. For broad swathes of our country this is a lived experience, day after day, for more than 400 years on this continent. Racism and inequality are systemic, deeply rooted and offensive to humanity. The senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are not outliers; they are the expected externalities from a broken, malicious society.
Our obsession with the ‘progress’ narrative belies the uncomfortable truth that human beings treated other human beings as something less. The echoes of this legacy reverberate through America, to this day, despite our efforts to tell ourselves, “we have come a long way.” We are desperate to distance ourselves from such evil, but romanticizing progress towards basic human dignity risks slowing the realization of the only acceptable outcome — universal equality. Our progress shouldn’t be measured incrementally or relative to behavior more heinous than where we are today. It should be absolute.
There is not an individual in this country who doesn’t own responsibility toward this pursuit. As citizens we are obligated to seek justice, reject ignorance and fight the status quo. If you do not reject the systemic advantage you have as a white American, then you implicitly endorse it. If you don’t call attention to racism in the moment, latent or explicit, then we let each other down. We owe our fellow citizens more than just action; we owe them empathy and compassion.
I cannot fathom the grief, grievance and fear that minority communities endure simply because their skin is not an arbitrary shade of white. But, I can be angry at the outcomes. I can strive to understand your plight. I can join you where you are. As Romans 12 teaches, “mourn with those who mourn…strive to live at peace with everyone.” The motivations and structures that built our inequitable society are complex, powerful and deeply rooted. A better America won’t be easily wrought, but it is worth fighting for, piece by piece. Dr. King wisely said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we don’t tirelessly fight for equality then justice will always be under threat. That applies to every single one of us.