When I was a little girl, my grandma, an immigrant from Russia, cautioned me against using the word “hate.” Like many little ones, I’d toss the word around like a nerf ball: “I hate chicken livers; I hate it when my mother leaves us to go to work; I hate the boy in my class who pulled my long braid.” As a young person, the word seemed right. It captured strong emotion and had powerful energy behind it.
Last week, watching a video of a police officer smash his knee on George Floyd’s windpipe I gained a new understanding of my grandmother’s admonition. Seeing the ease and apparent comfort with which Derek Chauvin applied his body weight to a struggling black man’s neck, I saw what hate looks like. Hate is terrifying. Hate kills, Hate is intentional. Hate is persistent.
On the same day that George Floyd was killed, Christian Cooper was birdwatching in New York’s Central Park. Another video that went viral showed a white woman calling the police to report “a black man threatening my life.” As my mentors in anti-racism taught me years ago, racism is white skin privilege plus power. Amy Cooper understood thepower of those six words.
As I process two traumatic, albeit very different events, from Memorial Day 2020, I am not able to speak eloquently. I find word pairs just reeling around in my head:
Yet, I won’t spiral completely into the sadness and despair. I won’t because I’ve seen what love looks like. Love is when people take to the streets with their signs and their voices during a pandemic to protest the killing of black people and to let George Floyd’s family and friends know that he will not be forgotten.
For years we’ve used a myriad of nonviolent approaches in attempts change America’s heart and mind by:
Passing federal and state anti-discrimination laws against you
Premiering the first interracial kiss on Star Trek
Developing Diversity trainings
Writing books like The New Jim Crow
Working alongside you
Praying for you
Making movies like Get Out!
Marching on Washington
Coming to your weddings, funerals, baby showers
Sitting on your Boards
Enduring endless microaggressions
Watching the ACLU defending white supremacists on basis of the First Amendment
Letting you cry when we raise the issue of race and even getting you tissues
Dealing with your upset becoming the issue so we never address your racism
Partaking in endless hours of Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee meetings
Becoming news anchors, CEOs, beauty queens, president
And the truth is, like a weed, a deadly virus, a guest that won’t leave, hate persists.
We are not okay. America is not okay. The protesters are here to tell you that. The looters are using a different form of protest. The people engaging in violence are communicating that hurt people sometimes hurt other people.
My grandma wanted me to take the word hate seriously, so I’m now warning you: institutional practices and policies that sanction hate, greed, violence, will not be tolerated. We’re wearing face masks, but our voices will not be silenced.
Love is in the streets (regardless of what it looks like to you) and it’s not going to shelter in place.
Photo by Renee Fisher www.unsplash.com