My social media is a blur of memes and reading lists, of heartfelt pleas to listen, to amplify, to defund, to abolish. I watch friends get in fights with their relatives, their neighbors, a friend of a friend in a comment section on Instagram. Most of the time those relatives don’t say the really awful, overt stuff—though the Nazis and the Confederate Flag wavers and whatever unctuous post-post-modern fusion of has been enjoying a bit of a cultural renaissance in Trump’s America—but the shit they still say is still terrible, if terrible in an “acceptable” way. A friend’s republican uncle would never say that he views George Floyd as less of a human, per se, but he would absolutely find some bullshit excuse to justify the thousand ordinary horrors endured by black Americans that he would never, ever, not for a moment countenance for his family, his friends or himself.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure the republican uncle is any less of a lost cause than the dudes with swastika tattoos and KKK belt buckles. I don’t know what good it does to spar about the relative humanity of other humans over the internet or over Zoom (or over the dinner table, if you’re feeling reckless). Life is short. I don’t know what to say to a person who could watch George Floyd cry out for his mother and remained unmoved, intractable, and oblivious enough to split hairs about crime statistics or economics. Is it worth it? Your call. Your time. In a pandemic, some of us feel like we have nothing but time. But in the United States, in June of 2020 , every wasted moment feels like the possibility of another life lost.
I don’t want to disparage the small efforts. Every things helps, I guess, except the stuff that doesn’t, which varies depending on who is writing the editorial, and who comments in the thread. Transformative change– real, radical paradigm shift change– is hard. The incremental work, done in baby steps and the baby steps taken by thousands of people at the same time, across the country, all over the world, makes the road ahead look less daunting. That’s good, because it will be, as the kids say, daunting af. My internal loudmouthed pessimist likes to remind me that humans, especially white American humans don’t tend toward entropy so much as inertia. The status quo can be seductive, even if it’s self-evidently sucky. People don’t like to be uncomfortable, and the sacrifices required for any real deal change? Those will not be comfortable for anyone who has, unconsciously or not, enjoyed the real benefit of being a white person in America. It doesn’t take that much imagination to see that. I want to believe that we’ll all stick to it. I want to believe we’ll continue to rise to the occasion when circumstances require more than a one-time donation, a hashtag on the bottom of shared article, or a sunny afternoon with a bunch of likeminded people at the only morally justifiable mass social gathering after twelve weeks of quarantine. I have to believe it—that there’s another side of this and it’s better and fairer than where we are and we’ll get there. Because where we are? Where we are has no future. Where we are is not acceptable for anyone.
The other option is pessimism and despair. And my despair? Well, that’s definitely a privilege. I am a white person who has enjoyed all the benefits of being a white person in America. And so I can sit here throwing stones and virtual $20 bills at various non-profits, because I’ve read the books and seen the memes and still can’t shake the sense that I’m not doing anything meaningful. I feel like I’m not doing enough. Those challenges coming and sacrifices required? I’m not at all sure I could convince anyone to make them. I can’t honestly promise I won’t complain when I have to make them myself. I feel guilty about that. Am I just standing in the way, taking up too much space? Am I not taking up enough? I feel guilty because I’m not marching because I have family shit but maybe my family shit isn’t that big of a deal. Maybe this is more important? I don’t know. I feel guilty for not knowing. I feel guilty for feeling guilty.
“You know your guilt doesn’t help anyone,” said a friend when I said so, and it never does. She doesn’t say that my guilt is privilege. She doesn’t say I need to put up or shut up. She doesn’t say “It’s privilege to assume you get to decide what’s meaningful” But she could have. And she would have been right.
When I was a middle-aged woman, I lived in a pandemic. When I was a middle-aged woman, the world erupted into rallies and protests. When I was a middle aged woman, I I saw possibility of real change and spent a whole week trying to find the right words to say about the future, so I looked to the past and said too many and kept deleting until what was left didn’t make much sense at all. I should have kept it simple. I should have just said: Keep going. Don’t stop. I’ll do everything I can to help.
Keep going. Don’t Stop. I’ll do everything I can to help.
As of this writing, 3,535,554 people have recovered from COVID-19.