Taking a stand for justice and kindness for all
Two members of our family who are one generation younger than mine have posted lengthy videos on social media expressing their outrage over events that have ripped our nation. I’ve never seen them so upset, nor so eloquent.
Their comments followed the needless deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minnesota. I was troubled too, but I know these are only the worst in a countless number of similar injustices. Racially motivated crimes have been carried out with impunity for much too long, because often they occur within a reporting vacuum.
My younger kinfolk weren’t around, as I was, during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. They didn’t grow up, as I did, in communities where people of color are a large percentage of the population. They didn’t witness daily, as I did, shameful examples of how society has arbitrarily decided that one group is superior to another based on the colors of people’s skin.
In the 1950s and 1960s, my father showed — rather than just telling — his son what motivated four university students to cross the “whites only” barrier at a Woolworth’s lunch counter 20 miles away.
He took me to a bus station to decry public bathrooms and water fountains labeled “white” and “colored.”
When my mother’s doctor restricted her to bed rest while expecting my little sister, my parents hired household help. In the process, the old South’s racial hierarchy was shattered before my eyes. “Mrs. Onie” became part of our family, sitting at our table during meals in defiance of the tradition that black housekeepers stay in the kitchen to eat the food they had cooked.
Once, Onie asked if she could stay for an extra hour, off the clock, to watch a favorite television show. Her family’s TV had quit working. We joined her in viewing that program. Then Dad, something of an electronics wizard, went to her home Saturday morning and fixed their set. In fact, we all went. We had lunch with her family, and I found a friend in Onie’s son, Rodney. A lot of the way I think about unequal opportunity, unfair distribution of resources, and similar matters can be traced back to time spent with Rodney.
It struck me that maybe my generation didn’t parent as purposefully with our children, but such lessons got passed along anyway. Otherwise, why would these young adults, seldom exposed to discrimination themselves, become so angered by the racial injustices they see?
I hope my generation didn’t mistakenly believe the efforts of the civil rights movement of the 1960s were sufficient. I hope we didn’t think making the situation “better” at the time was “good enough.” I hope the periods of calm between the most publicized offenses didn’t lull us into thinking the racial divide that’s existed several centuries had actually healed.
George Floyd’s death in particular has set off protests nationwide, but rogue policemen are the tip of an iceberg. Officer Derek Chauvin had a badge, but people with similar temperaments are everywhere — at stores, restaurants, offices, even churches. Their contempt for people with different skin colors is apparent in large and small ways. Such attitudes are not only systemic but too often unchallenged. We must do better.
Protesters rail against brutal police, but it’s the entire culture that’s inherently skewed. What can I do to bring justice and kindness? I can’t comprehend the world known by our brothers and sisters of color. Their experience isn’t my experience only because of a roll of the biological dice.
If I can’t understand, I can at least stand. Stand up, that is, for justice. Or, perhaps I can kneel or lie down as dozens did Monday at Brownwood City Hall.
Our Christian faith and America’s founding documents proclaim that each of us is a child of God, created equal. Every individual should affirm those words and put them into practice daily. The inspirational and restorative event Monday in downtown Brownwood was a fitting reminder.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.