I recently lost my 99-year-old grandmother just two months before her 100th birthday. As I began to grieve her loss and accept that I would not be able to attend her funeral, I was once again forced to grieve the loss of another part of me, the senseless and inhumane killing of George Floyd. I did not know Mr. Floyd personally, but he represented a part of me, the part of me that is black in America. As a result, I became overwhelmed with a range of emotions as I had to deal with death of my grandmother and deal with the results of an America that has, for so long, ignored the pain and voices of black people. The undeniable fact about being black in America is the realization that for all the wrong reasons, we are all connected. This connection exists whether you want it to or not, so when I watched Mr. Floyd being senselessly murdered, I knew it was very possible for that to happen to me and any other black person, man, woman, child, or elder.
I have close experience with the outrage, pain, and frustration many people are expressing. My grandmother taught me that above all racial, ethnic, and religious factions in life, humanity is what binds us. Yet, while I have lived my life nourishing my humanity and hoping the world would nourish it the same, I continue to be reminded (for all the wrong reasons) that I am black. I ask you, is it humane to kneel on a black man’s neck until his death as people plead for you to stop? Is it humane to handcuff a black girl in preschool? Is it humane to gun a man down while he is jogging? Is it humane to shoot an unarmed black women eight times in her own bedroom? I understand and identify with the pain and that feeling of helplessness that causes you to want to lash out in ways you wouldn’t imagine.
Therefore, it’s important to understand that we can’t control how a person experiences pain, and as a result, neither can we control how that pain is expressed. But we can address the source of that pain that America has known since its beginning, where that pain comes from, and how it was created. America has instituted policies that promote promise for one group of people and create pain for the other. America has created policies that focus more on dividing instead of uniting us. We have created an American culture that critiques individuals, races, and classes of people while overlooking institutional and systemic responsibility. And Edward Deming said it best, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” America built a bad system, and it’s been snatching the spirits and eating at the humanity of all of us, especially of those most negatively impacted.
If you have been paying close attention and listening to the news, you would have heard the statement, “There are two Americas,” one for black and brown people and one for white people. Within these two systems, we see people processing what’s happening very differently—the pain, the sense of urgency, and the frustration of phrases like “it takes time,” “just be patient,” “your vote counts,” “we are in this together,” “it will be okay,” and so much more. Layer this with years of slavery, political disenfranchisement, segregation, and exclusion from educational and economic opportunities, and we arrive at this tipping point.
Despite all of this, I find promise in the protest as the people I see mobilizing aren’t just black and brown, they are also white people and others from many ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds. Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are just as outraged as those who are.” It’s beginning to feel like we have come closer to that moment.
As a family of networks and as people who are engaged in the U.S. political system, I call on you now to imagine with me, without excuses, a new set of policies that creates systems of promise for all people and that will eliminate systemic racism.
Frank L. Gettridge
National Public Education Support Fund