[Photo: Courtney Martin, Oakland, CA]
“We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, “The vision still has its time, presses onto fulfillment and it will not disappoint . . . and if it delays, wait for it [2:3].”
-Fr Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation
Suspending my creative promotions for a moment.
The murder of George Floyd is something we can’t ignore. All of us feel that. If you watched the video of Mr. Floyd’s last moments on earth or even just saw that brutal, incendiary image of the officer’s knee crushing his neck, there is no looking away. The question has been forced.
The question: is it in any way acceptable for an officer of the law to kill a man — unarmed and handcuffed and pleading for mercy — in broad daylight with no provocation whatsoever?
The answer is no. It is not okay. In the name of the most basic definition of human decency, we demand justice for George Floyd.
But then there’s something more.
That photo. The white man’s knee, the black man’s gasp.
I can’t pretend to know what’s in your heart but I can look into my own. The question I keep asking myself is: to what degree am I complicit in George Floyd’s murder?
Sure I wasn’t there at the corner of Chicago Ave and East 38th in Minneapolis. But the fact remains that I am a benefactor, an inheritor of centuries of white privilege, white provision. The law purports Liberty and Justice for All, but even after two centuries of reform, the law is on my side first.
That officer’s knee was in my name. Me. The soft child of the American family, indulged and coddled.
A few freedoms I know and can name: I’m blind to most. I take for granted the world through which I move, as though it were my birthright.
But what would it be like not to have the whole system of justice and economic invention arranged like an armed phalanx behind you? What is it like to be black in America? I cannot know.
But I can listen.
That there are white folks like me awakening to the knowledge of not only our collective biases, but more importantly, the consequences of those biases, is perhaps cause for a quavering hope. It won’t give George Floyd his life back, or Breonna Taylor hers, or restore Ahmaud Arbery, Donnie Sanders, Tony McDade, or the extinguished lives of countless others. It might yield the imperfect consolation of justice. But what next?
The sense I’ve gotten from talking with my friends and family is that the spirit is willing, but the way forward is uncertain. It’s hard for an individual person, however well-meaning, to know what to do, where to start. I’m not sure whether a post, or a hundred posts, will add up to anything truly meaningful. I don’t know.
Change begins in the heart. Okay fine. But what does that mean? What does change actually look like? I can say any number of things to ally myself with people of color, but is that really a solution? Talk is cheap.
Voting change into office will help. Let’s get busy doing that.
But I’m looking for something personal. I think we all are. It’s not just about police brutality. It’s about wanting to be whole. Whole individuals. Whole people. A whole nation.
Well, what’s possible?
Let’s for once allow ourselves a wild hope. Let’s dare to concede the possibility that maybe, somewhere in the future there’s an integrated America, where Black Lives Matter, where the rights of each individual really are extended to all.
At the very least, maybe it’s possible to be a little more whole.
I’ve been quiet the last few days, mulling over this question. Reading a bunch of different perspectives. Trying to get my thoughts in order. Praying about it.
What would it look like to be a little more whole?
And this is where the death of George Floyd has shined a light in a dark corner of my own heart.
See, I live in a mixed neighborhood in East Nashville.
While its gentrification has been going on for more than fifteen years, I still have neighbors of color. Close neighbors. Two of the houses within a hundred feet of me are occupied by black families.
I have lived in this house for almost five years. I love living here.
But wait. Do I even know my black neighbors’ names?
We have been living in parallel universes.
Worse, there are little kids in the family of one of those houses. What am I teaching them, by never saying hello when I see them playing in the yard? By them never seeing me talk to their parents?
I’m teaching them that white people don’t see them. They are invisible.
By the sheer act of being unneighborly to my literal neighbors, I’m participating in the furtherance of this no-longer-acceptable status quo.
There are other ways I, I know. But allow me to focus on this one for a second.
The question is, who is us? You draw a circle, everyone inside it is us. Great. But where is the boundary — the place where us ends and them begins? How big can we make the circle? I don’t know the answer to that question. But I think, where I live, I can expand my circle of us, even if just a little bit.
When I was a kid growing up in Twin Falls Idaho, it would sometimes happen on summer evenings that my dad would fire up the home made ice cream machine.
There is nothing as distinctive as the nasal whine of the buzzing motor cranking that frothy mixture of milk and sugar into something thick and sweet and frozen. The sound would fill us kids with anticipation. Shivers in our bellies.
Ours was a cheap unit and my dad would have to sit next to the machine on a chair and free up the motor with his hands when it would stall. After a half-hour or so he’d lift the frosty cold canister from the wooden bucket of rock salt and ice. Suddenly all the neighbor kids would magically appear in our driveway. My mom would hand out bowls and spoons and we’d eat our fill as fast as our mouths would let us. It was an unqualified joy.
So I’m going to try something. An experiment.
My friend Laura helped me make a few little handmade flyers. Yesterday I started handing them out to the people on my street — knocking on doors, inviting them to my house this coming Sunday, for an ice cream social.
Just, pop over for a bowl of homemade ice cream and say hello. Everyone welcome.
I have all kinds of neighbors. Young families, white folks, black folks, famous musicians, student renters, a couple people I’m pretty sure voted for Trump. All of us living right next to each other, basically never communicating beyond a wave from the sidewalk.
But what would it look like if we — for the time it takes to eat a little ice cream — act like the neighbors we are, for one hour, one time? I say let’s try it.
The Sunday Social Ice Cream Hour. Folks will come at 6. We’ll be done by 7:30 at the latest. Maybe a lot sooner if no one comes!
Either way I’m gonna do this again and again. I can be fairly relentless when I’ve made up my mind.
It might be amazing. It might be awkward. I don’t know!
The thing is, we have nothing to lose. It’s clear that doing what we’ve been doing is no longer acceptable. For me, change begins at seeing what’s in front of you. Seeing who’s in front of you. Just saying “Hey! What’s Up? Who are you?”
I’m not trying to claim this is the answer. But it might be an answer. To see if we can draw that circle a little bigger. White people living in mixed neighborhoods have a unique opportunity in this critical moment.
And that’s what I have felt these last few days: if not me, who?
Hey man, come over to my house. Bring your kids. Let’s hang out for a few minutes.
Maybe it’s a start. The invites are out. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’m sorry Mr. Floyd. You didn’t die in vain. My prayer is that some small good can come of this. Maybe we can be a little more whole.
Korby is a writer/producer and singer/songwriter. He currently lives in Nashville.
George Floyd with his baby girl, Gianna.
A gofundme fundraising page has been created for Gianna.
From author Seth Godin:
“When a problem appears too large, too intractable and too unspeakable to deal with, it’s easy to give up.
There never seems to be enough time, enough resources or enough money to make the big problems go away.
Perhaps we can start with a very small part of it. One person, one opportunity, one connection.
Drip by drip, with commitment.”