This morning I was going through my usual Saturday morning routine; it’s the one routine I have that hasn’t really been changed by the pandemic. Buddy sleeps in, and I get up, feed the cats (which is a project in and of itself), prep for breakfast, and then read the news until he gets up and then we fix breakfast. I was thinking this morning how nice it is to have something that is still normal in the midst of all this insanity. I really want Biden to win in November so we can all go back to normal.
Except as I’ve come to realize, we can’t go back to normal. Normal is what got us here.
I am involved with the diversity committee where I work and it’s been an eye-opening experience, to say the least. I’ve come to realize that the America I thought I knew was never the America that people of color have experienced. That when we look at the escalating insanity around us in Portland and Florida and Washington DC, shake our heads and murmur “this isn’t my America” we’re ignoring the fact that for many in this country, this actually is and always has been America.
We as white people are so used to centering everything on our experiences and customs that we’re beyond entitled to it; it doesn’t occur to us there should be any alternative. We’re bewildered and rather offended when we’re asked to de-center ourselves. Even those of us who believe we don’t begrudge our BIPOC friends and colleagues their time in the center can still react with wounded dignity when we’re not centered.
A white woman decides to center herself in the middle of a Black Lives Matter protest, and we celebrate her courage. Kudos on her for her bravery, but what about the thousands of Black people who have the courage to get up, go to work, and live in a society that often tries to kill them for living while black? I’ve found that if you say “Yes but” about Naked Athena, you are met with outrage because too many people cannot grasp that it’s possible to acknowledge a white person’s courage while still pointing out that their act has also de-centered black people. White centering is normal.
It’s like all those conversations you see about these issues on social media seem to share a commonality: If the OP is white, the comments are congratulatory. If the OP is black, the comments are tone-policing and finger-shaking. If you would just speak more softly, if you would just be polite, if you would stop calling names then white people might listen. Because white people demanding an ass-kissing before they’ll consider black people human is normal.
Here’s the problem with normal. Normal is the repeating history of white backlash against the societal gains of black people, whether it’s the backlash of Jim Crow against black freedom, or the backlash of Donald Trump against the presidency of Barack Obama. Normal is the medical community’s indifference to black health and black well-being, choosing to blame it on physiology instead of on racial inequities in the health care system. Normal is pretending that people of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 because of their cultural behavior instead of recognizing that it stems from the impact of racial inequity in our society.
We can’t go back to normal. For our sisters and brothers of color and for ourselves, we have to find a way forward into better.