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I Can't Breathe - 06/04/2020

When I started writing this blog, my intent was to document the COVID-19 pandemic experience through the eyes of a resident of Tucson, Arizona. Along the way I have been writing some about my past, and my life currently. I didn't expect to witness protests on a historic scale here in the US, as we have seen yet another shameful murder of an unarmed black man by police officers. Yet, here we are. And I cannot just write about my quick getaway to Yuma (yes, the Dunes were gorgeous, but the museums were all closed as were most of the restaurants; still I had a good time) or my doctor's visit about my insomnia. The events of the moment are so much larger than the mundane aspects of my life.

I grew up in the American South, specifically in Huntsville, Alabama. I was born in 1958, into a segregated society, but the only segregation I can recall is the "colored" sign at Atlantic Beach, South Carolina, which was formerly the only beach that African-Americans were allowed on. I remember asking my mother why; flustered, she had no answer for me. I don't recall the passage of the Civil Rights Act; I was a first grader at the time. I do recall the first black students at my elementary school. I think I was in second grade, and our teacher introduced the two boys to all of us and said we were to treat them with the same respect as anyone else. My father worked for NASA until 1977, and I don't remember whether he had black co-workers or not. I know that there were quite a few immigrants who worked with him, most notably the scientists who came over from Germany not long after World War II ended. They were supposedly more enlightened than us Southerners about black people, and truly I only recall one day of a so-called "race riot, " which happened in downtown Huntsville in 1968. My parents downplayed it and I didn't give it much thought. I was very upset when Martin Luther King was shot, but Bobby Kennedy was also shot, and a few years later, Alabama's former governor (and chief segregationist) George Wallace was too. As a child, it didn't seem to me that race was that much of a factor; I thought that people in power just got killed a lot.

When I got to college at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), I had more than one black professor, including the head of the Biology department. When I graduated, I went to work for Burroughs Corporation (now Unisys), and had black co-workers. I didn't give race a lot of thought. Then I moved to Birmingham, and within a month I heard a white secretary use the "N-word." I was shocked. I never heard people do that in Huntsville, certainly not openly and with no evident hesitation. Although this wasn't commonplace then (it was the early 1980s), racism was definitely more visible in Birmingham than in Huntsville. After I moved to Nashville, it was evident in the self-segregated neighborhoods, and in the all-black, tuxedoed waitstaff at the local cafeterias. Old ways die hard. But I was fortunate to have black co-workers in both cities, and I developed a close relationship with several of them. We sometimes talked about racism, and how difficult it was for them to function in what was still a white-dominated society. Over the next 15 years, I would continue to pursue friendships with people of color. I lived in Los Angeles, the most diverse city in the world, for seven years, and during this time had a long-term relationship with a black man. I like to think of LA as being pretty enlightened, but my boyfriend got called the n-word from a passing car in West Hollywood in 2015. So much for enlightenment.

Suffice it to say that I have spent my life pretty much in harmony with people whose skin is a different color than mine (although I am sure I have had my moments of unintentional racism). So I am absolutely stunned that in 2020, so many years after the end of the Civil War, after the Civil Rights Act, after Rodney King and "can't we all just get along?" that we are still seeing the kinds of brutal police murders of unarmed black suspects. That black men are being killed for jogging through their own neighborhoods. That white women are still calling the cops on black men for no reason, and then protesting "I'm not a racist" when they get called out on it. That people still talk about Colin Kaepernick "disrespecting the flag" for taking a knee during the National Anthem, when it should be crystal-clear by now that the police brutality he was protesting is as bad as he said.

And I don't understand why people continue to support Donald Trump. The only reason I can see that a person would do so now, after everything that has happened on his watch, is if they really just want a white man to be in power. And if that is what they want, then they are afraid of change, and they really think that white people should retain white privilege. They are racists, whether they know it or not. They don't realize that, as a meme on Facebook put it today, "America is a beautiful masterpiece of multi-culturalism." The ship has sailed on white dominance in this country, indeed in the world. The sooner we all recognize that, and rejoice in it, the happier we all will be. I believe what we are seeing this week is the start of real, lasting change in this country. I for one can't wait.

#segregation #racism #diversity #multiculturalism #PoliceBrutality #protest #BlackLivesMatter

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