In the recent Hulu series “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng, a blonde mother berates a an African American mother for her nomadic life, saying by way of comparison “I made good choices!” The African American mother looks at her and says “You didn’t MAKE good choices. You HAD good choices.”
That line summed up for me the underlying systemic disease of racism in this country. Those who look down on African Americans for their inability to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps” fail to understand that it is hard to pull yourself up when there is a system holding you down with a knee on your neck, wearing much bigger boots than your own.
“I can’t breathe” is a rallying cry which so sadly and powerfully encompasses the true asking price of justice for people of color. Everyone deserves the right to live freely, and pursue liberty and justice. Laws are too often delivered and administered by people immune to the needs of others by virtue of the color of their skin.
In my neighborhood yesterday our African American neighbor named John hosted a jazz concert in his front yard, with a tip jar on the table for the singer and her drummer. The singer sounded like Norah Jones. Our Asian neighbors set out their chairs, and even some deaf neighbors sat in chairs on the sidewalk, signing to one another while the music played. People of every color strolled by. A large white man covered in tattoos was holding hands with his Hispanic wife. Black and white dogs played with one another on the lawn. And just three blocks away young protestors were marching into Balboa Park, carrying signs and banners demanding action for a better tomorrow.
It was such a contrast, this neighborhood jazz concert being held streets away from a protest. Both of them were different versions of a song for freedom, I suppose. In another neighborhood across town a CrossFit trainer shimmied up the same flag pole that someone had hoisted a burning American flag on the day before. He shimmied his way up the pole and replaced the charred rope with a new one, and a new flag. Volunteers across the country swept up broken glass left by looters, whose true desire was to inflame a situation and make off with something somebody else owned. (Good luck trying to use the already disabled stolen iPhones, for example.) It reminded me of an episode of “Good Girls” who in their desperation to make money stole an electric Tesla automobile in order to sell off its “engine” off for parts. In some ways technology delivers its own form of justice.
I read that George Floyd was asked by a teacher what he wanted to grow up to be when he was in the second grade. He said “A Supreme Court Justice.”
So I am hoping that this man’s life, stolen before our very eyes, will somehow serve to make his wish come true. His death, filmed while he politely asked officers for the simple right to breathe, may bring about more change than any single, simple gavel could in a Supreme Court of law. He yearned for justice as a child. May his name be forever linked with it from now on.
And may all of us, everyone of us, HAVE good choices to make, in a land where what we believe and how we act, makes it so.