The most common expression I’ve heard over the last month here among my Brooklyn neighbors is “Groundhog Day,” a reference to the movie about a man stuck repeating the same day of his life over and over. Every day was like the one before, at least until this last Memorial Day.
May 25, 2020 began an unforgettable week in American history.
Eight days of peaceful demonstrations, marches, sometimes punctuated by startling violence have spread over more than 130 cities in the country. Here, in my neighborhood, sirens have been wailing, helicopters droning above, caravans of police vans tearing across Brooklyn while the President squawks banana-republic threats for military action against his own citizens. Yes, people gathering to say something as simple as “black lives matter” are being threatened by a President who cherishes his own right to say what he thinks to millions of people more than twenty times a day.
Although it started in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, it lit a fuse here in New York, resurrecting the names of Eric Garner and Amadou Diallo and a host of other African American men and women who fell victim to police brutality.
On Sunday I attended a family march through Prospect Park to Grand Army Plaza on Sunday. It was a peaceful demonstration on a sunny day, but very close by on Flatbush Avenue near the Barclay Center there were violent struggles between the police and demonstrators.
While we chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “No Peace, No Justice,” I felt the queasy dread of an unkept promise. I used to think we were getting better at this, making progress, heading to a better world, but the ground is receding with a hollow sucking sound. Racism is a virus, we’re all breathing it—some in bigger doses than others—but it’s infused in our culture, ever since Jamestown in 1607, and we can wear any kind of mask we want to convince ourselves we’re immune, it won’t go away. I don’t believe you can cure something like this until you first admit you’re a patient.
Children don’t begin life with this disease. They start life feeling equal to each other. It’s quite possible to sustain their innocence. Just treat them fairly, encourage them to take turns, don’t play favorites, be just, generous and loving. It’s not hard to encourage such virtues in children.
Yet we don’t seem able to treat adults of color this way.
Why not? What’s so hard about giving health coverage to everyone? Equal justice? A fair living wage? College for everyone who wants it? Those who have a little more can give to those who have less. It’s called “sharing” in preschool. The result is that everybody is happier and nobody is left out.
What’s that? Why can’t the rich be richer? Check this out if you’re curious. There is no zero sum game, here. I believe we are all entitled to live in a vibrant, contented society of healthy educated people without violent streets, citizens living in squalor, and a race war every sixty years. If you agree, spread the news.