A friend sent me a headline about nooses found on trees by Lake Merritt of Oakland. Given the two African-American men who have been found hanging from trees in other areas of California, many people have been put on edge. While the causes are still pending, the pain of the African American community cannot be ignored regardless of what were the causes of these recent deaths.
The hate that has been coming out throughout the country is terrifying. Even as the African-American community is screaming out their anguish through protests, something is driving many to unleash their own fear as antagonism toward the most vulnerable members of American society. This news about Oakland really hit home. I walked and ran around that lake so many times. It is a place I yearn to go back to. It is there I had always felt more seen as a woman of color comparing other places. Yet the latest development further exposed the venom that is still hidden underneath the current of racial inequality. I can only hope all this leads to further exposure and cleansing of all the fear and insecurity that have led to these actions. I believe without underlying denial and distrust of one’s own self-worth, no one would be capable of such hatred. To me, those nooses, if not destroyed for good, hang the humanity in us all.
Pain as an impetus for growth
A lot of pain has been laid bare for the past weeks and months, years, and centuries. From slavery to modern-day systematic racism, we as a country have done so much injustice to the African American community. As a woman of color, I am no stranger to discriminatory treatment. However, I felt unsure whether I have the right to talk about this since I cannot possibly comprehend the fear many African Americans live with daily. Yet not speaking up does not seem like a viable choice. A society is judged on how well we take care of our most vulnerable members. For that, we have failed miserably. America, with all its political clout and pop culture presence on the world stage, is still a dog-eat-dog world that offers far more privilege to those at the top and too little for those at the bottom of the economic and political food chain. Without equality, we are nothing more than hypocrites exposed by our humanitarian propaganda in other countries.
I finally gathered some courage to watch videos posted online that recorded the way many African Americans lost their dignity or lives needlessly in their interactions with the police. It is heartbreaking to see the fear, righteous indignation, or even hopeless resignation they expressed, sometimes before losing their lives. While I still believe most police officers have joined the force to protect and do good, it is irrefutable that some have given into racial stereotypes. Those stereotypes fueled their own fear which led to unnecessary vigilance, excessive force, and even murderous rage. On one video, I can hear one African American man, who was mistaken for someone else for whom there was a warrant, repeatedly described the police officer as shaking. He was trying to tell the officer to calm down and verify the facts first. There is something seriously wrong when the “criminal” who was supposed to be apprehended has to tell the police officer to calm down. Clearly, something other than rational thinking was driving that young officer to put someone in handcuffs without verifying his identity. While police are trained to use force as it is a necessity in many situations, compassion should be an integral part of those whose primary mission is to protect not to punish. Unfortunately, the system that is running our country, from the Oval Office to the police training workshops, is encouraging confrontation and fear. Confrontation and fear have directly led to the potentially fatal interaction between that officer and that innocent man in the video. Many have not been so “lucky”.
To my fellow African Americans who suffer through the pain and humiliation of being treated less-than every day, your courage in fighting an oppressive system inspires me. As you are joined by many in the country to demand what you deserve from the police, from your fellow Americans, and from the entirety of the social system, your pain serves as a powerful impetus for change in all of us. It should haven’t to be this way. Our growth as a nation should not be based on your suffering. Yet it had come to this.
In my conversation with my long time mentor and dear friend, who happens to be African American, it breaks my heart to hear his fatigue and hopelessness. I know that comes from decades of pain and injustice he has witnessed and experienced. He has fought long and hard for changes in his youth. He is skeptical of what all this could mean. In his own words: “Change is nothing more than things rearranged.”
I understand why he feels that way. I believe also we could all benefit from some hope. Only hope will keep us moving for change in whatever way we could act. We cannot be naive about the myriad challenges and pain that exist and will continue to exist. Life is unfair and ruthless, particularly for those with the least power and resources. Nature carries on regardless we live or die, laugh or cry. We are powerless in many ways. Yet in our limited time in this space, I will do what I can to live with hope in spite, or perhaps because of all the pain I witness, and make what little change I can. I have nothing except the choice in how I react to this life until I no longer have even that.
Hope for the future
Through our classification and categorization of those all meant to be equal, we deprived many of their nature-born rights to be treated the same as everyone else. Our fellow darker-skinned human beings have suffered most in this way of thinking. On the other hand, whatever circumstances brought many of us from diverse cultures and skin tones together in the protests or long before that, despite the thousands of ways we could have been on different sides of the aisle, testify to me there is plenty of goodness in life. My cherished 20 plus year relationship with my mentor is one of those. While I often grapple with the pain and sadness of life these days, lost in the exploration of my own identity that seems to assail many in their midlife and questioning everything I know, it is a different kind of sadness than I used to have. It is a feeling more sure of myself and less fearful even as I feel more uncertainties. It is with this newfound courage that I speak up in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. I might muck it up, I might say the wrong or insensitive things because I am ignorant in many ways about the reality African-Americans have experienced for so long. However, speaking up and tolerating the fear of making mistakes must be the first step toward showing unity and bringing about healing. As for my fellow Asian Americans, I think Jeff Yang puts question best in his 2016 article Will Asian-Americans get behind Black Lives Matter?
As I learn to settle into my skin, it does seem that sometimes the only thing human consciousness has added to the planet is the ability to create more pain/anxiety. It makes the desire to show love to all the more urgent. I will do what I can in my own capacity as a mental health professional to bring about more equality. I do believe we humans are capable of creating beautiful things. It will take the last drop of our will to create and feel it in spite of all the things to the contrary. Whatever fear and insecurities those differential treatments or acceptance of those differential treatments of fellow human beings have been masking in ourselves, we must take notice. It is not just for the sake of African American members of our community, but our entire community. It is only when their lives matter the way it should have always been, will we all have the ultimate security of knowing our lives matter too.