[In May and June of 2020, a time of pandemic isolation, economic collapse, and intense partisan rivalry, videos of Minneapolis cops lynching George Floyd — a Black man with his hands cuffed behind his back — sparked nationwide mass protests against widespread police brutality and systemic racism in America. ]

Fifty-Five Years Later

Sheila Long, June 8, 2020
SCOPE, summer 1965 and CORE, fall and winter of 1965 in eastern NC
working with Joycelyn McKissick, daughter of Floyd McKissick.

55 years ago, we were young and filled with hope that what we were doing was changing America for the better. 55 years later, there is cause to wonder whether anything has changed after all. I think it has. The internet has allowed us to see heinous, outrageous acts with an immediacy that was impossible when we were young, from the horrible murders of George Floyd and others, to Amy Cooper's invocation of white privilege to harm an African American who challenged her breach of NY's leash law, to peaceful and violent protests throughout the country. Throughout the world, people are weeping at the murder of George Floyd.

While the persistent acts of racism are beyond disheartening, I find the widespread outrage encouraging. At least people everywhere are waking up and objecting. Some of my ancestors were slave-owners, some helped rob Native Americans of their land, and no one in my family's milieu objected, either centuries ago, or as recently as the 60's. We were supposed to be proud of our country, proud of our past, proud of our ancestors. As I child, I felt deeply ashamed of both our history and of the inferior living conditions of the African Americans my family employed. When I went south with the civil rights movement, my mother said, "You know what is really bothering the Negroes: according to Elizabeth (our family's maid), it's that there aren't many nice families like us to work for any more."

I'm seeing few signs of that mentality today. Instead, I see some progress in the midst of tragedy. White state police knelt and prayed with protesters in the middle of Interstate 84 in Hartford, Connecticut, stopping traffic in both directions. As a resident of rural NY, I have access to the online resources of the NY Public Library, which gives reading suggestions when you sign in with Overdrive. When I was looking for a book to read the other day, I noticed that they had introduced a new category: "Anti-racism resources". Amazon Prime and Netflix have recently posted whole categories of movies and videos with a "Black Lives Matter" theme. Today I ordered something online from Walmart, and at the top of their web page was a line saying, "Steps we are taking to combat racism." Even influential media executives are paying attention and trying to do something positive.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, has written extensively on the fact that we are all interconnected, we all "inter-are", to use the word he coined. Those of us in the Christian tradition may see a parallel with the Holy Trinity: God created humans in God's image, in the plural: male and female, in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. As above, so below: the image of the indwelling of the three Persons of the Trinity becomes, when we are at our best, a realization of our mutual human indwelling, no matter what our race. Whatever one of us does affects not only those in our immediate circle, but all of humanity.

© Sheila Long, 2020 


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