America — June 4, 2020
“A riot is the language of the unheard.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I generally write fantasy fiction, but right now, it is difficult to escape reality when reality is so desperately in need of escaping.
About forty-six years ago, when I was three or four years old, my mother tells that if I’d fallen, scraped my knee, or otherwise came to her crying she would ask me, “Where’d you get hurt?” Rather than show her whichever part of my body was in pain, I would take her by the hand and walk her to the exact location I was in when the injury occurred.
I grew up in Colorado Springs, when I was in second or third grade; I sat with a girl, A.B., at my homeroom desk. I still remember her eyes and her smile. She was beautiful. We were good friends, as good as two kids no older than six or seven can be. We drew each other hearts, giggled a lot, and shared sweet smiles. I was a little white boy with buckteeth and she was a little black girl with good penmanship. We were children who shared innocent affections, until one day the teacher separated us. Other white kids in the class had started talking. They called her names. They called me names too.
I didn’t know what their words meant so that night, I asked my father. He was well into his bourbon, his eyes glassy with that liquid haze. When I asked him what the ugliest word in the English language meant he snapped to, and sat up straight. I was in trouble. My father said, “You ever say that word again and I’ll knock your fucking head off.”
Moments later, he asked me where I’d heard the word, and I told him about A.B. and what my classmates were saying. My father, a Vietnam vet who’d come from an affluent family back east told me that it didn’t matter what color someone’s skin was because, “We love who we love.”
As long as I live, I will never forget that moment. As long as I live, I wish I could forget this moment, the one we are all in now.
Compared to other countries the United States of America is a toddler. It is the child of a time in history, when people landed on these shores fleeing tyranny. Yet, in our quest to be free, we became tyrants ourselves when we wiped out the people and culture that was here before us. Then we became enslavers, and mortgaged our humanity for free labor. The unbelievable world of pain brought by that may never be healed entirely. The tyranny of that pain has endured through centuries, and it is not yet dead.
We cannot continue to overlook or undervalue the fact that white Americans have benefited from hundreds of years of oppression.
As a white man in America today, I can interact with the police without fearing for my life. I can shop anywhere without fear of being seen as suspicious. I can vote without issue, and do so many things I have taken for granted because I am not suffocated by racism. I can simply live my life, so many cannot.
I had a collapsed lung once about twenty years ago. It was awful. It happened spontaneously and subtly at first. After a few minutes, I started to feel difficulty breathing and after a while, I drove to the ER because I could not breathe fully. I have no idea what it’s like to be a person of color of any kind, but I imagine it is something like having only one functioning lung. It’s hard to do things when you cannot get enough air. It is hard to live that way.
White privilege is the air we breathe.
Our forefathers destroyed the native peoples of this land and purchased their own luxury with the blood and sweat of black men, women, and children. That happened and we cannot erase it. In doing this, they created a caste system that has endured in the halls of academia, our government, our courts, and our minds. What is happening today in America is a part of that story. Regardless of whether or not we were alive when it began is irrelevant. We are alive now.
America is a beautiful country, but we have scars. We have open wounds, and they will not heal until we let them. We need compassion. Though we cannot change our past, we can grow beyond it. We have to acknowledge it, the damage it has done and continues to do. We have to stop hiding our scars, or pretending they are not there. Let them be known, understand them. We cannot change our skin, all we can do is live in it.
If America’s mother were to ask you, “Where’d you get hurt?” take her hand and walk her to the sidewalk Trayvon Martin died on, the spot in Charleston, where the grass felt Walter Scott’s body fall, take her to Cleveland, where Tamir Rice was gunned down, or the street in St. Anthony, Minnesota where Philando Castille was shot in front of his son and girlfriend, take her to the shoulder of the Loop 101 in Phoenix, where Dion Johnson was shot in his car, take her to the street in Minneapolis where George Floyd gasped for air, and begged for his life before he died.
Take her to all these places, and then take her to the many, many, many more. Show her where they all died and say, “That’s where I’m hurting.”
Originally published at https://bertrock.com on June 4, 2020.