I hope I never need to write a post like this again….but, it is extremely likely that I will. My heart is heavy. It aches for all of the lives lost due to individual and systemic racism and bigotry, but what I want to highlight in this post is xenophobia. Sometimes, I worry that the words racism and bigotry have run the euphemism treadmill to become so trite and cliche that we have forgotten the pain and the power behind them. So, let’s turn to a less oft-used, elegant, and very much applicable term: xenophobia. Xenophobia is defined as the fear and hatred of strangers and foreigners or of anything that is strange and foreign. We hear the term more frequently used in conversations about immigration and human rights and it is perfectly appropriate here.
Those of us who are of like-minds dream of a future where black skin does not engender fear and hatred… just by existing. We are human and, regardless of how we arrived where we reside, we are here and we belong. George Floyd, whatever failings he may have had, was an American. Yet, despite being an American citizen, throughout his life he was treated as a stranger, never quite belonging enough to be seen as “family” or even a neighbor. Part of “belonging” is not having to be perfect all the time, and being granted grace and mercy when our failings overwhelm us. Sometimes, you get to have a bad day. Too often, being black is living with the constant reminder that being our normal, imperfect selves can lead to our deaths.
Research confirms what the streets have been saying for years: White people think Black people are superhuman. They think we are magical. On the face of it, it sounds pretty cool. Who wouldn’t want to be Superman? But, being “super” creates fear among those who work within a system not designed to deal with those “seem” different. It is inherently dehumanizing, which allows use to lose our empathy. It creates this fantastical idea that a grown man in a position of authority can kneel on a black man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and that he shouldn’t die. “How dare he have the nerve to die on camera and cause us all these problems?” By his inhumane treatment of George Floyd, Derek Chauvin became a monster, plumbing the darkest depths of his soul, someone he probably didn’t recognize. Wrath is a sin.
Yet, this is bigger than Derek Chauvin and the other officers involved in George Floyd’s death. The system that they are a part of attempted to defend their irresponsible use of force and refusal to render aid until it was too late. George Floyd’s death was entirely preventable and unnecessary. When systems forget the human, the systems must be overhauled. Dismantled and rebuilt, if necessary. Empathy and ethics can and must be trained and demanded at every level of the justice system. We should all be demanding change, lest it be us in a situation one day.
When I mention Black rights in space, this is what I mean at core. The right to exist. The right to make mistakes and be appropriately punished for them, yet not end up dead. The right to be ordinary. We are not superhuman. We have to overcome the fear that has been built into the very psyche of the country, and likely the world. Ethical action cannot come from fear. Black people are humans. Black people are humans. Black people will be human on Mars too. What happens when actual aliens show up?
Things Black people can’t safely do (and white people, you better be careful doing them too):
- Sleep in their beds
- Walk home at night
- Stop at a house to ask for help after a car wreck
- Wait for their child at a bus stop
- Go in their own house
- Have a busted taillight
- Act like a child when they are an actual child
- Reach for their driver’s license after being told to show their driver’s license
- Beat a racist’s a** after they were attacked for no reason
- Have a cookout in a public park with grills
- Walk their dog
- Go for a jog
- Cosplay as their favorite anime character
- Pay with a $20 bill
We can be better; we have to be better. Black rights are human rights. This verdict is a step toward accountability, but it doesn’t feel like justice.