Reconciling the Outrage
It’s almost impossible for me to talk about the George Floyd killing and what we are engulfed in without shutting down. I’m weary, frustrated and angry, at “them” and equally at me for believing that my family’s and my Black community’s place in this nation was ever going to change. Will the day ever come when the impact to Black life from law enforcement, government, our schools or our health care systems will be equal to white life? Will the day ever come when I can send my sons out in the world without the warning that their color will be seen by many in law enforcement as synonymous with crime? Will my daughter be able to raise my interracial grandsons with enough guidance to explain that saying Black Lives Matter holds huge differentiation in meaning for their Black grandparents than it does for their white grandparents? They hope and pray for their dreams. I am forced to hope and pray for their lives. How can I make sense of this? These past few weeks have come very close to breaking me. Emotionally I find myself checking out until something pulls me back into the stark reality of where we are as a country. I am struggling with finding the one source of comfort that should be available in limitless quantity……hope. I just don’t understand how Black folks have suffered so much and seen our lives change so little. I’m terrified for my grandchildren. I know I am sending them into a perilous and trauma fraught time I will never see.
There are moments however when it’s not lost on me that there are institutions, organizations and allies who feel this as deeply as I do. Why hasn’t that shared belief been enough to move us to a better place as a nation and even as a city? Portland, for all of the qualities that it aspires to and that I hold in warm and loving regard has a horrible history and much of it is not relegated to the past. Say their names…..
How can we reconcile the outrage we should feel every day we draw breath regarding the loss of Black lives and dreams against the back drop of the noble ambitions that many white folks (and black folks) aspire to? I admit that I have no good answer although the question plagues me daily as I work to advance the values and beliefs in equity that all deserve to have as core in their lives. Perhaps a portion of the answer can be found in the writings of Dr King from his imprisonment in the Birmingham jail. “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
I have spent many moments in the past few weeks in self-assessment on this very question and I wish I could say I am comfortable with where my response ends up. But I have carved out a starting point of sorts. It is to challenge all of us to ask how many of the organizations, nonprofits and institutions we lead or are associated with have committed their focus, funding or programs to not being “people of ill will” versus accepting the realization that hope and intentions don’t get the job done. I’ve been in this work in some way or form for almost 50 years. Regrettably, the past few weeks have shown that whatever I’ve done in collaboration with these entities and allies has not been enough to make what my friend and colleague Tony Hopson describes as “the change” versus “a change”. This feels a little like 1968. Despite the outrage of that time and the loud alarm demanding real change, America essentially hit the snooze button and drifted back to business as usual for black communities and families. The undeniable truth is that over the past 5 decades of the civil rights movement, our combined and collective “good enough” has not been enough. It’s time for all of us to seize this moment and look for the role we can play in truly making “the change”. This is the uncomfortable truth of what needs to be said, heard and embraced despite the bruising of egos and emotions that it may engender. It’s time for people of good will and shallow understanding to leave the stands and take the field led by black leadership, knowing that once there it will be a uncomfortable, stressful and bruising time….but one that can give my grandchildren the possibility of lives that can be defined and enriched by the gifts, the rights and the dreams their creator has given them. Let’s hope this time in our history will be different.
– Michael Alexander