The year is two thousand and twenty. I’m one week away from finishing my freshman year at the University of Washington. I just went to grab lunch with my friends, then picked up some packages from my grandparents’ house. Another seemingly normal day in the life of a nineteen-year-old. Except, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I’m finishing my classes thousands of miles away from my university in California. I had lunch with my friends while socially distanced in a park. I kept on a face mask while visiting my grandparents to try to spread the limit of potential disease.
In my country, there are over a hundred thousand people that have passed away and millions are unemployed due to a pandemic. People of color are being murdered by police at alarming rates, hate crimes are spiking globally, and the president is calling for the military to harm protestors who are fighting against systemic injustice. The day before, I watched an American shuttle launch to the international space station for the first time in several years, with reporters commenting how amazing things happen when citizens work together. Yet I could feel nothing at what should be a monumental accomplishment, knowing that on the ground, Americans are fighting for their lives in hospitals and on the streets.
As I write this, I want to be completely clear and honest. I am a white, Catholic woman, writing this from the comfort and safety of my home far from major cities. But these past few days have rocked me to my core. It makes my stomach twist to see so many people suffering, physically, mentally, emotionally…it makes me feel helpless, like there is nothing I really do. Sure, I can spread awareness, donate to organizations, show my support to my friends who are in most need of it right now. But I still feel hopeless.
As someone who hates violence, I can’t even honestly say I approve of the riots (and yes, I understand that stems from a minority of protestors, and sometimes it’s instigators who are just looking to fight). But the thing is, it doesn’t even really matter what I think. I’m not a person of color, I’m a white girl who hasn’t even had the chance to vote in a big election yet.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not my place, nor anyone else with a similar position, to criticize how black people react to unjust murder, because they are the ones who are facing the injustice and suffering because of something like the color of their skin. I will never be able to know what that feels like, and I wish I could take away that pain and suffering from anyone who does have to face that fact every single day of their lives.
Sure, I can say, “I would never violently protest,” or tell others to do so peacefully, but I can’t say that. I don’t know how I would truly act, because of a simple appearance. A 5’2 with blonde hair, blue eyes, and white skin may have other problems such as sexism, which I sadly have already faced before even reaching two decades on this Earth, but police brutality will most likely never be one of them. I have no idea what a person of color faces on a day to day basis, so really, I have no right to judge how they decide to protest.
What I do know, is that I can’t shake how profoundly evil it is to tear gas people protesting the suffocation of a man by the police during a pandemic driven by a respiratory disease. I’m scared.
I fear my privilege can cloud my judgement, that I will get things wrong, that I will hurt someone rather than help someone. But if I’m scared because of this, I can’t imagine the pain and fear people of color must be feeling.
So, I’m trying to remember that sitting in my own fear is doing nothing to confront the problems in front of me. My silence is deafening, and it is more important to speak out that to say nothing at all. But speaking out online while taking no other actions is part of the problem. As Desmond Tutu says, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
So, if I say something wrong, if I cause any pain to people of color, please let me know, and I will work like hell to learn, repair the damage, and do better next time.
I’ll finish with this: I’ll never understand what some people are facing right now, whether it be fighting disease, facing unjust racism, or having to live every day of my life in fear. Yes, I am scared too, but no matter what, I promise to stand by. Know that you are loved and supported by so many, no matter what the media, government, or the liars tell you. Believe me when I say that I pray for your peace and safety, and want nothing more than injustice and violence to end.
Two thousand and twenty…what a year you will be in the history books. I only hope that the chapter if finally marked as the era of change.