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In the Mean Time - 06/15/2020

A friend of my mine recently shared a post from her pastor on Facebook, advising the church what to do "in the mean time." It was a typo, but both of us were struck by the Freudian significance of the error to the time we are living in right now. It's not just the unprecedented nature of the Pandemic and all the adaptations we are being asked to make. It's the divisive nature of our response to COVID and how we view being asked to make changes like wearing a mask in public and social distancing in groups. It's the anger we see on social media, when people post about their "rights" and how the COVID restrictions are infringing upon them. And of course, it's in the brutal violence we have seen that continues to be inflicted upon people of color in this country, especially African Americans, and in the clashes between the police and the protesters in the aftermath. It is, indeed, a "mean time."

Some people have asked "why now," with regard to the increased involvement across races in the protests. George Floyd was not the first black man to die at the hands of the police for a non-violent offense. Some have suggested that white people are getting involved because they are bored from the stay-at-home orders, and don't have anything better to do. Or that the whites are jumping on the protest bandwagon because it is the "trendy" thing to do. Some have cynically suggested that white people will just go back to their racist ways when the commotion dies down, or when the Pandemic ends and life is back to normal. These people appear to hold out little hope for real, lasting change. I find these comments sad, and hope that they are wrong. Yet I understand why black people in particular would feel this way. Violence has been visited upon them since their arrival in the United States as slaves, continuing after emancipation in the form of the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, and today's epidemic of police brutality. With each positive change, like the Civil Rights Act, they must have felt that finally things would be better, only to find little lasting improvement.

I have hope, though, that things may be different this time. For one thing, as to the "why now" question, the answer is that we may have reached a "tipping point." As defined by futurist and writer Malcolm Gladwell, a tipping point is when a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change. The incidents up to now, while not isolated, did not generate enough widespread outrage for real change to occur, perhaps because there were questions about what actually happened in each case. But with George Floyd, because of the bravery of a young woman who was in the crowd with her cell phone, we have a recorded video of the entire incident. We can witness the entire, eight minute and 46 second video of Floyd's horrific murder at the hands, or should I say, knee, of a Minneapolis policeman while three other cops watch him and do nothing as Floyd says, "I can't breathe," and calls for his mother. It is one of the most shocking films I have ever seen. For many people, this was the first time that the reality of police violence against blacks really hit home in a way that could not be denied or explained away. It was the last straw, the tipping point, that convinced many white people that something has to change, and that they wanted to be a part of that change.

So what we see now, in the protests across the US and around the world, is the final, overdue awakening, as Time magazine calls it in their cover story this week. After 400 years of violent oppression, blacks are finally being recognized as the victims of the systemic racism that this country was built on. And although many people continue to deny this reality, including the current occupant of the White House, most reasonable people agree about racism and the need to overhaul the systems in place that support it, especially the police force. The difficulty, of course, is in implementing the needed changes. Calls to "defund the police" while well-intentioned, are confusing and frightening to many people who believe that the nation would descend into anarchy without a police force. Defunding is really restructuring, not cutting off money to stop crime. It involves a rethinking of the proper role of the police in society in order to eliminate murders like that of George Floyd.

But while most people would agree that change must come, there is considerable argument about what, when, and how to implement that change. And this disagreement has led to a lot of "mean time" in our public discourse. Social media is the great enabler of meanness in public discussions, and both the Pandemic and the Protests have divided friends and family as well as strangers. In attempting to have some of the difficult conversations about race with other social media users, I know I have said the wrong thing and come across as a privileged "Karen," the code word for a clueless white woman. More than anything, I want to help, and to be a part of the change, and to show African Americans that I am not going to be a part of the problem any more, if at all possible. But like most people, I struggle with how to do that. In the meantime, I am trying to listen more without judgment or defensiveness, as we move forward together in our struggle to get through "the mean time." We must all find a way to, as Gandhi said, "be the change we wish to see in the world."

#PoliceBrutality #GeorgeFloyd #TheTippingPoint #Malcolm Gladwell #OverdueAwakening #DefundThePolice #ListenWithoutJudgment #BeTheChange

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