Thinking through and writing about issues that rouse
Black Lives Matter TOO!
Outrage Leads to Numbness
So hard to write these days. Numb. Pulled to the news and to Facebook and reading post after post about the recent racist outrages culminating in the murder of George Floyd. My usual Trump-supporting friends seem to have taken a break and are silent. Oh, now there’s one claiming that the Minnesota protests are being funded by Soros to create chaos. That is your first and only post relating to the murder? To further a conspiracy theory? Really? (Note: It has been borne out that the violent property-damaging participants are outsiders. I hope this will be further investigated but at this point, who is behind it is speculation. Facts please!)
Okay, write. Thesis. Evidence. Conclusion. Can’t do it that way. Form follows function. My form is that I am numb. The function of this piece is to attempt to emerge from this numbness. My medicine is to write. I know there is an end — a goal — clarity. So bear with me, walk with me.
Thinking back on other senseless murders of black people and I don’t want to know whether or not justice was served. I suspect that will cause even more outrage and subsequent numbness. I take a peak. Here’s the Eric Garner murder in New York who also said “I can’t breathe” as he was dying at the hands of a police officer. Oh, the cop was terminated. Looks like a civil lawsuit granted the family money. But the cop got away with murder. Other stories are similar to this, and you can see why this Chauvin brute may have believed he was invulnerable. He could get away with murder because that is the norm in these cases. Outrage. Numbness. That seems to be my pattern. I think the numbness must be a self-protection tactic. You can’t live in a state of outrage. But numbness is also not right. It is deadening. Is there another choice?
A Thread to the Little Bits of Hope for Change
I can rail all day about what a terrible president our current POTUS is. But I don’t because enough other people do and I can’t live in a perpetual state of anger. He disturbs me but he wouldn’t be in this highest office except for: 1) more electoral votes; 2) the Republican majority in the Senate, who were elected by a majority of their electorate. Trump wouldn’t be where he is without the people who voted for him. This is why I am fixated on my relationships with Trump supporters. To be honest, I would love to change their minds, but I know it probably won’t happen. By maintaining a connection, my hope is that they will hesitate in their attempts to demonize me and people like me — the libs. I make a conscious effort to not demonize them, to actually keep loving them. I may not be able to change their vote (yet I hope I do), but to find any connection point gives me hope, just enough to not become cynical. So I am starting a file for “points of connection”. It is a very small file.
Entry 1: When one of my friends posted that it was perfectly fine for Trump to call this virus the Chinese virus, because that’s where it came from. I responded to her that the result of him labeling it that way may have provoked racist attacks on Asians in the U.S. She replied to me, that’s dumb. I said, yes, racism is dumb. I think she “thumb-upped” my comment. This is a victory to me. This friend is not white, but a very conservative Trump-supporting Christian evangelical who has a fervor about spreading one conspiracy theory after another. We disagree on everything, but alas! We can agree that racism is dumb and that it is wrong for Asians in the US to be blamed for the virus.
My second entry has to do with the George Floyd murder. Every day, I try to do something creative. I am learning watercolor botanicals and calligraphy. Last night, I was looking to do my daily art practice, which is to find a quote and do a calligraphy piece of it, then decorate it with a botanical of some kind. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot having to do with saving the planet. But, that seemed so much less important than addressing the huge raging elephant in the room of the American consciousness — Black Lives Matter.
I used to be on Facebook a lot, especially when I was a union activist teacher. I had not been posting much on Facebook in recent months, ever since Zuckerberg took a position in December that they would not do anything about political ads that contain false information. I tried to withdraw completely, but the reasons why I am on Facebook (babies, family, friends) kept pulling me back in. I actually had pulled back on activism in my retirement, trying to be more peaceful, more into myself, into travel, into art. I guess I had grown cynical and numb as my stint in activism in the world of education did not amount to much. So, there I was, wondering what to do for my daily art making. But all day, I had been seeing posts and news about the George Floyd murder.
I decided to make that my art project for the day. It starts out with the word empathy. Getting my toes wet. Empathy, Of course. Non-threatening. Then I decided to describe what that meant. Put yourself in his place, in his shoes, in his skin. And then I decided I had to say it, that statement that triggers so many of my conservative friends — Black Lives Matter. There’s always someone who thinks they are being righteous by saying “All Lives Matter”. So, my dears, if all lives matter, shouldn’t black lives matter too?
Which leads me back to my connections collection. I posted this and one of my Trump-supporting friends said “Book em Dano. Charge him for murder. All Lives Matter.” This response was the inspiration for this essay. As I said, I honor any degree of connection, and we agreed on the need for a murder charge (which hadn’t happened yet at that point). I replied to him: Yep, black lives too.” He replied back in capital letters — (which I won’t do) “All lives matter. It goes without saying.” So I reply: You have to say it, because if you really believed that all lives matter, you would say that black lives matter too. He responded right away. “You overthink this. Fuck yes, Black Lives Matter. If you knew me better, you would already know this. I am so pissed at that asshole cop that murdered that guy.” He is a white man who claims he is not a racist. We agree on the horror here. But he sure hung tight to that empty “all lives matter” phrase as if it meant something. But I will file this in my points of connection folder.
If All Lives Matter, Then Please Say it — Black Lives Matter Too
When I posted my calligraphy, I briefly explained why I had to write that particular phrase — Black Lives Matter. I challenged anyone reading it whose impulse it is to say All Lives Matter, to be on board with Black Lives Matter because if All Lives Matter, then Black Lives Matter TOO! A friend who shared my post, had this comment on her feed, that all lives matter. As if we don’t know that all lives matter. They are so missing the point of what happened to George Floyd and so many other black men and women — that in so many instances their lives did NOT matter. If you really believe that all lives matter — then be on board with this movement, recognize the injustice, stand with your black brothers and sisters and say the words — Black Lives Matter TOO!
A Story of Hope in the Midst of the Darkness
I wish I had a third entry in my “points of connection” folder. Stories always work better in threes. I have been touched by the many stories people are sharing. Oh my gosh, there’s one about the black man who has to take his daughter with him when he goes for a walk in his suburban neighborhood because without her, he’d be a scary black man. And there’s the one about the college professor who got stopped by a cop because he looked like a man they were looking for although the only thing similar about him to the description was that he was black. Stories like these crossed my feed all day. Will the abundance of these stories change anyone’s mind? Get them to stop saying “all lives matter”? Stop it. If all lives matter, then you would see that some lives are more vulnerable than others, are more targeted than others.
I think I will change my file into “stories of hope in the midst of the darkness of systemic racism.” There was this beautiful story about a white cop, Aaron Ostachuk, in Chinatown in Honolulu. He was sitting in his squad car, thinking about 2 cops who had been killed in the line of duty at that time. A little African American boy tapped on his window and asked if he could take a picture with him. This HPD cop was so touched by the trust this boy had in him. His mom was looking on and he could tell she was tearing up, likely thinking the same thing he was. Here is an excerpt of his reflection: “I picked him up as seen in the picture and he wasn’t even afraid. A young African American boy not afraid of the Police because he doesn’t look at us with anger or disappointment. Because he is to (sic) young to see hate, racism and or that some Police can actually be bad and dishonor their badge.”
We are not perfect in Hawaii. But we do try more often than not to live aloha, which speaks to treating one another with kindness and compassion. There was a solidarity protest in the capital. An African American woman being interviewed said something to that effect. She noticed that the Hawaii police officers did their job by standing back and allowing a citizen protest, free of intimidation. She suggested that we could be the example for the country. I am not the only eternal optimist in Hawaii. Actually, I think she is more hopeful than I am. I am just thankful that I got my “all lives matter” friend to say ‘black lives matter.”
And I continue to make art statements about Justice.
Recently posted on Medium, an internet platform for writers. Check it out there or read here.
The wisdom of knowing your enemy
I am a pacifist. But it is wise to understand world events through the lens of war. It is crucial, especially from an environmental and social justice point of view, to know what the sides are and which side you are on.
I have a fascination with Trump supporters on Facebook. I don’t “enjoy” their posts, but I am interested to know what they post. It’s like an itch I have to scratch. When I see something outrageous, I fact check it if I have time (and lately I’ve had lots of it). Most of it is untrue, in varying degrees. I don’t bother to tell them of the “facts” because I know they don’t give credence to factcheck sites (leftist, funded by Soros, etc.), but I learn something in the process, something of their perspective, what makes them tick. I engage once in a while, try to find a way to have a civil exchange. But it eventually ends with intransigence, on both our sides.
So why do I do it? Primarily, I don’t think it’s healthy or wise to live in a bubble, an echo chamber, bounce-backs of my own thoughts and values. I am worried about the ever-deepening divide in this country and it doesn’t help for us to stay in our bubbles. In this time of isolation we are in our bubbles physically, but in the world, the divisions continue and fester. Yet, I cannot stand to spend time watching Fox or any other right-wing media. Facebook posts affords me that glimpse outside my bubble and into theirs. It’s enough.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.