Photo by Munshots via Unsplash

By Dr. Sandra Harris Howard, Senior Consultant for Joining Vision and Action

I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m grieving. I’m numb. These feelings are ones that are often experienced by my family, my friends and me. Emotions have recently escalated after hearing of and viewing the murder of George Floyd.

This man was killed heartlessly and senselessly as he pleaded for his mother and as his pleas to be able to breathe went ignored. Now, our nation has people of all races, colors, religions and beliefs protesting because the truth that Black Lives Matter must be heard.

Painful truths

The video that documented the death of Mr. Floyd brought up painful memories of atrocities imposed on people in my communities over centuries. From slavery, to lynchings, to redlining, to salary and other discriminations, to occurrences of unwarranted police stops for most black men that I know. I won’t even get into the disproportionate effects that COVID-19 has had on black communities.

Most times I don’t want to share my truths and feelings about perpetual injustice and feel like I should not have to educate white folks about how their privilege and insensitivity negatively impacts the lives of black folks. In 2020, there have been specific televised instances of deaths of unarmed black people that cause me to come out of silence.

When Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down in Georgia by a white father and son while another man videotaped the incident, I was appalled. Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by an officer in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky, while watching video games with her nephew. Two weeks prior, Botham Jean was shot in his apartment in Texas by an ex-police officer. There are many other controversial police encounters including those with Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Antwon Rose II, O’Shae Terry, and Sandra Bland.

‘Acceptable racism’

My husband pointed out that what was most telling for him about the current state of our nation is the story of Christian Cooper. He was bird-watching in Central Park in New York City. When he asked a white woman to put her dog on the leash, she refused and let him know that she would call the police and tell them that an African American man was threatening her life.

That fact that she knew she could use her white privilege in that way is a form of acceptable racism that seems prevalent in our society.

Fortunately for Mr. Cooper, he videotaped the event, and the police did not come before Christian and Amy left the park that day.

Here are a few specific incidents that have impacted me:

  • My nephew left a great job in Texas to experience life in Germany after the police shooting of Bothan Jean in his home state.
  • My 17-year-old grandson gets constant reminders that his life would have been much different if his dad had not come out to witness police attempting to question him at age 10, as they were looking for an 18-year-old black suspect.
  • My sister had to leave college following the lynching of an outspoken student leader on her campus in Oklahoma. It was reported as a suicide, of course.
  • My brother has faced several blatant discriminatory acts as an internal medicine and hospice doctor in Northern California.
  • I have experienced proven cases of salary discrimination for me and other African Americans.
  • I have faced disrespect and being ignored in my own office while interviewing a white male who chose to address responses to my questions toward my white colleague.

Leaders, resources, suggestions

I’m grateful for the lessons from Jane Elliott, a teacher who used the blue eyes and brown experience to help people better understand the perspective that people of color have daily. Peggy McIntosh has taught me so much, especially in her article on White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. White people have to speak up in this time of injustice. When you talk, your people listen in ways that they can’t hear from me.

Voices of black mentors and leaders in our country are vitally important during this time of protests against injustices. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that civil unrest is a response to people being unheard. Other leaders that give me hope and guidance include President Barack and Michelle Obama, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Pastor John Hannah and my pastors Toure and Sarah Roberts.

There are so many authors and resources that we can turn to as we are on our individual and collective journeys of cultural competence, understanding and healing.

What is needed most as we move forward in this country is unity and love. Divisiveness is tearing our country apart.

The question is “What actions will you take to improve our world?”

I offer a few simple suggestions:

  • Acknowledge that black folks (and others) are hurting
  • Have discussions on race and current issues in your own families and circles
  • Reach out and get to know someone of another race or culture
  • Meet your neighbors
  • Read and learn about history from the perspective of other cultures
  • Understand and accept that we are different and have similarities as human beings
  • Pause and think before you speak
  • Don’t intentionally use your privilege to hurt someone else
  • Wash your hands
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
  • Provide positivity, joy and appropriate humor when you can
  • Vote in local, statewide and national elections