The morning after

I’m not considered a particularly cheerful person, although I love to laugh and love to be the joker. OK, not the Batman kind of joker, but a person who enjoys being humorous and likes jokes. That kind of joker, sometimes not serious even when I need to be. It’s take me a long time to learn how to laugh at myself, and I’m not giving that up easily. It’s a really dark place when you can’t laugh, and I don’t like those dark places any longer.

But. Sometimes I get kind of fixated on things a lot of people would rather not be. I generally don’t last long with people who want to dictate conversation matter to be “only cheerful stuff”. That ain’t my world, y’all. I can be silly and find humor and irony in a lot of things other people don’t see, but sometimes I need to go deep. And sometimes the deeper you go, the darker it gets. That’s how it goes. If I don’t go there, I feel superficial and more or less transparent (and not in a good way). So, I have to honor that, and people who can’t go there should just stay on the surface. That’s fine, it’s just not for me.

So, I say all of that to say…I watched a bit of the Derek Chauvin trial earlier today. Before the trial started, Rev. Al Sharpton and a group of activists held a press conference to mark the start of the proceedings. They talked for a bit, then Sharpton led them to take a knee for the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck last May, leading to Floyd’s death. They called out every minute that passed, and even though it was a bit of drama, I found myself unexpectedly uncomfortable waiting out the entire time span. There was plenty of extraneous conversation, camera shutters clicking and whirring, people shifting position, adding commentary. But still. Trying not to imagine that scene in Minneapolis that day, trying not to imagine a man’s life slipping away in broad daylight, on a city street, with numerous people standing by. Hard to imagine, but I don’t have to imagine it because it happened. It is reality.

The trial has begun, and all eyes are on it. The prosecution had already called the first witness to the stand, a young woman who is an emergency dispatcher for the City of Minneapolis. Question after question, examining the transcript of the call, having her explain the acronyms and abbreviations, the jargon, how she felt, what she did, the process. On and on and on. Details, details, details…building the case. I didn’t make it very far…only about thirty minutes, but that was enough to get some anxiety building. For however many days, or weeks, this trial extends, there is going to be emotion and stress and legal machination and…reliving this horrific death. Fortunately, I did not have to see the now infamous video of that day George Floyd died, but the jury and the witness have reviewed it several times already. I saw it quite enough, though, when it was top of the news every hour on the hour and every day for weeks after it happened.

And today, it recalled the dread I felt when the video was emblazoned on my mind’s eye. Dread that someone could die in such a cold and dispassionate fashion, on a city street, with dozens of people in attendance, while cars passed by totally oblivious to what was taking place. This is the stuff that horror movies are made of, someone dying at the hands of another within earshot of witnesses, and there is no succor, no rescue, no mercy. There was no mercy.

I have no idea what the jury’s verdict will be in this case. I have no idea what it should be; I was not there, I did not witness this. But I am dreading the outcome of this whole procedure, because I fear the public response. The insurrection of January 6th was bad enough, but if there is an innocent verdict for the officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, I am truly afraid of the public reaction. It may cause the Rodney King riots to look like a May Day picnic. If the verdict goes the other way, I fear that reaction as well. Will there be more mass frenzy directed at the court and the legal teams, will there be more hatred directed at the Floyd family? Will there be anti-Black crime in retaliation for a guilty verdict?

In short, I do not trust my fellow citizens at this point. I can’t even trust them to wear a mask when in public, or to not gather in large groups, or to follow guidelines designed to keep us all safe. I can’t trust them to not take advantage of people who don’t have the societal privilege they do, the privilege that affords them greater access to resources than other people. The privilege that enables them to not give a damn. I can’t trust them. In many ways, I’ve never been able to trust them, but the stakes are higher now.

I am tired of having to explain that to people who don’t share any part of my cultural experience. I am tired of talking about it, having book discussions about it, listening to podcasts about it. I need to be doing something concrete, something that lets me scream my rage at the systems that created circumstances that caused George Floyd’s horrific death. And Trayvon Martin’s. And Mike Brown, and Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland, and Tamir Rice, and all the rest of them. And that’s just 21st century mess…we have not even begun to grieve the unnamed victims of lynching and hate crimes of centuries before these.

There is a river of blood flowing under our feet, and the groundwater is red. Anything that comes from that source, or the soil it feeds, will be born of blood. There is no prayer or rite or good wishes that will cleanse us, no financial recompense that can ever be equivalent to meeting the eyes of those directly touched by these wrongs, Not muttered statements of apology, not hurried and rushed thoughts and prayers in prepared and strategically appropriate statements. We need to know that our country has collectively accepted that wrong has been done, and that it sees how those wrongs have impacted all of us, and how it’s going to make that right. And then…and then…we need to see the change beginning. We had begun seeing a shift in status quo in the 70s – Model Cities programs, election of more diverse legislators across the nation, affirmative actin to afford more educational opportunities for diverse students, and to diversify employment. More women in STEM careers and executive management.

Aside from some of the mandated programs in public and private sectors, school desegregation had gained a foothold and there was intermingling of cultural niches. Some – not all – of the rigid walls between dominant culture and racial and ethnic minorities began to crumble. People began to socialize across race, across ethnicity, across sexual orientation. There was still resistance, but organized institutionalized racism began to fade. Gone were the “whites only” signs, and the sundown towns. Homophobia still had a bit of a hold, but race and ethnicity seemed to have turned a corner. There was some hope that Blacks, in particular, might finally realize some equal opportunity in hiring, education, home ownership. Maybe the American Dream might not be so impossible after all, and for all

And so we thought, until the resistance began to ramp up…again. Affirmative action saw challenges of “reverse discrimination”. The pre-cursors of charter schools began to form. White flight from the inner cities escalated, and with them went much of the money for public education. The prison-industrial complex reached stratospheric levels, and drug use with it. The 70s had enough big hair and left-over daze from the 60s to carry us through…and the 80s, well, I don’t know what to say about the 80s except maybe the big hair clouded reality for everyone. But the resistance was still going strong – and there was a Southern Strategy. We had a President who was about to be impeached, so he resigned. Imagine that. He. Resigned. Before impeachment. As opposed to being impeached twice, losing an election, and refusing to take responsibility for any of that. But I digress.

We’re now well past the hippie era, the disco era, the big hair era, the leading up to Y2K era, the millennium, and now…this. Whatever the hell this is. The WTF era? That seems appropriate enough, because WTF is this? We’re full of hate and bitterness and acrimony, blame and shame, beating each other with anything not nailed down and each one claiming victimhood. Hatred and insult has become legitimized again. Accountability has been surgically removed from our paradigm, unless you don’t know a guy and you’re not criminally adept. Even if you are inept, just have a large firearm handy, because everything’s fair in love and war, and this is war. We just don’t realize we’re only shadow boxing with ourselves.

My point is…until we can acknowledge that a significant part of our history is based on racism and greed, and we need to do something radically different, I don’t believe the polarization is going to be mitigated any time soon. We’re dodging bullets all over the place, but law of probability suggests that sooner or later, we’re gonna take one. That’s not going to be good for anyone. If I’m lucky, we won’t take a bullet until long after I’ve turned to dust again, but it’s not entirely about me (well, most of it, but not entirely). People get ready, there’s a train a-comin’, but if you’re just sittin’ on the dock of the bay, wastin’ time…you ain’t goin’ nowhere. And we need to be goin’ SOMEwhere. That’s the way it works – if you’re standin’ still on that uphill climb you’re going backwards.

Hope it’s not a hair trigger.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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