Be A Witness To Experience.
I just heard an explosion a block away. Here we go…
It’s 9pm on June 2nd, I live in the Lower Haight district of San Francisco. Like so many last week, I had been struggling to simply navigate my way forward through COVID-19, to simply secure my future and somehow live my values along the way. And then it began to happen… George Floyd was murdered and within 48 hours, I witnessed upwards of 50 people storm my street, walking past my house. Were they protesters? Looters? There was no sure way of knowing. All I knew was that I felt unsafe and uncertain about what to do. Did I want to join a peaceful protest? Sure. Did I want to contract COVID-19? No. I was perplexed, full of unease and tension. In less than 24 hours, I soon heard shots fired and explosions no more than a few blocks away and an hour later, an explosion right on my block. Violence had reached my doorstep and I felt rattled. As I write this tonight, I can literally hear some sort of gunfire less than a mile away, likely in the Mission district of San Francisco. On the one hand, i get it. A riot is supposed to create tension and unease, rattling society out of its comfort zone. On the other hand, it was all i could do just to attend to my “fight or flight” reaction and be a witness to what i was experiencing. Simply struggling to ground myself and deal with what was happening, I sat with my experience, I sat within myself…and began to open to both what was happening around me and within me.
During these stirring, intense and perplexing times, it can be challenging to figure out how to know your place in this movement, how to plug into it, how to find your voice or simply how to help. Often, these challenging moments decide themselves for us, if only to help us give others a choice to willfully decide for themselves. In the last 48 hours, I have been placed in the unique position of witnessing this movement’s virtue but also the inadvertent violence along the way. Feeling my safety at risk and unsure if it’s the virtuous kind of risk behind a movement for social change, I am simply choosing to be a witness to my own experience and how it makes me feel…
Now is a trying to time to live our values but that’s also the point. When has it ever NOT been a trying time for people of color to live their values as they fight institutional oppression? And so, I began to re-examine what my very values were under this new pretense and how best to live them in service of this movement and those around me. I have always valued my relationships in life; my friends and family, my neighbors, my community. My relationships have always been the biggest way I relate to life and on a societal level, relationships between groups were now in chaos.
Over the course of my life, I haven’t personally witnessed blatant, systemic acts of oppression, which has led to my false assumption that they simply weren’t happening often and weren’t widespread. Or have I indeed witnessed them and, due to the very blindspot that is my white privilege, simply not noticed? More likely “yes” than “no”. Either way, I wasn’t witnessing these oppressive acts...until they came to my front door in the form of an explosion. If anything, the biggest reason i wasn’t witnessing these acts up until now was because I wasn’t inquiring enough about them. I wasn’t asking the people of color next to me about their experiences and simply listening to their stories, their personal experiences, their pain. I also realize now that I have been simply treating the thought of these oppressive acts as individual “bad apples”, as isolated incidents and not systemic or institutional, not coming from the highest institutions, and not endorsed by the very authorities charged with protecting against them. All that changes now. I want to know for myself where and when incidents of discrimination happen and how they’re indicative of a systemic problem but most of all, i just want to listen. I want to hear, understand, and feel the stories of the people of color in my community and in my friendships. This is personal in every way and affects all of us. As american institutions threaten to crumble, all we have is each other. If the institutions fail, we’re going to have a lot of each other to take care of. We are all interconnected, we are all one with each other and we are in this together. It’s time to get out of our comfort zones. I have friends who are people of color but if oppression feels silent or we don’t talk about oppressive systems enough it’s because I haven’t asked enough. So, i am inviting a dialogue with whomever is willing. To the people of color in my community and among my friends, I want to hear you and feel your experiences. By listening to each other, my hope is not only for an increase in our self-awareness but also for a shift in our collective consciousness. Progress will happen when a collective shift in consciousness reaches the very institutions that need to change. If a riot is the voice of the unheard, then we need only listen with an open willingness to challenge our own beliefs and assumptions. We need to listen not just on a national and societal level, but on an individual level to our brothers and sisters next to us. If you are unsure of where to begin, simply begin by listening within yourself and to those around you. Be open and willing to change, to let your consciousness shift...and the actions of change will decide themselves within you. I intend to be a witness to experience and not just my own experiences but moreso of those around me.
As for collective actions we can take together, I would like to issue a call to action to white americans. I was very impacted by a simple photo of a line of white americans protecting black american protestors. The police simply wouldn’t move on them. I was amazed. Think of the sheer optics: news stories and videos of police attacking peaceful white protestors? This wouldn’t protect the status quo or the institutional authority that so desperately needs to change, it would endanger it. What more of an example do white americans need to crack down on these oppressive systems and create pressure until there is change? If we did so, there would be a shift in our collective consciousness and thereby, our institutional policies TOMORROW. Changing hearts and minds individually is critical but as a society, nationwide action must also be taken at the institutional level in order to address a systemic threat. White americans should acknowledge their responsibility to address institutional injustice and inequality not just because the victims are of a certain race but precisely because these institutions are predominantly of their OWN race. It all starts with creating and enriching your relationships so start by having a dialogue with people of color, speak up and shed light on racial injustice and discrimination when you see it, no matter how small or silent. Don’t just make a donation, offer to help, offer to listen, reach out and make the connection a real relationship. And, by all means necessary, exert pressure on the institutional authorities spreading this systemic oppression. Start by placing a call to your local congress representative and demand legislative action. I am also inviting a call to action of putting pressure on the system at one of its pressure points: the office of Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison. Voices are effective, social pressure is effective and whatever it says about our current societal values, financial pressure may be the most effective. In addition to throwing money at change, we must also promise to remove funding from oppressive institutions and groups, where it will hurt most. We’ve been the privileged majority for so long...who’s going to stop us??
As we try to move forward and live more meaningful values within and for this current movement, let’s be a witness to our own experience for the good of the people next to us, for those most affected by institutional oppression, for those who can’t help themselves. Let’s be our own example of tolerance, respect, compassion, understanding, and unity with each other. We are all in this together and if only for that reason, we can end this TOMORROW.
Below is a list of the collective actions we can take together. You can start by putting this screen down and talking to the person next to you. This is a great way to get out of your bubble, especially on social media: We always surround ourselves with people who agree with us. Why not? Who wouldn’t? But respecting our differences requires getting beyond our bubble, talking to people with different viewpoints. And believe me, social media founders are absolutely controlling who sees or doesn’t see your content. Systemic oppression at perhaps its most silent.
Campaigns to support:
George Floyd family fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd
Black Visions Collective: @blackvisionscollective
Reclaim The Block: @reclaimtheblock
Northstar Health Collective (medics): https://www.northstarhealthcollective.org/donate
Black Lives Matter: @blklivesmatter
As we witness shocking footage of brutality on social media, please immediately share it with everyone you know and trusted authorities to have these criminals arrested and charged.
Make things: protestor care packages: masks, water, first aid supplies, etc.
Do what you're best at: Write a song about your experiences and share it, write a blog post, take photos, etc.
Raise money from friends and family to donate.
“What should I do with my white privilege?”: https://www.courtneyahndesign.com/illustration/guide-white-privilege. @courtneyahndesign
“Where to start in your work to become an anti-racist”: https://crooked.com/articles/antiracism-resources/. @crookedmedia
Share your stories. Your personal experience and your story is one of the most personally impactful tools you have to influence others. Tell people about your experience, personal growth, education, and compassion.