As others have written, America is a different country from what it was just two weeks ago. From dramatic local policy reforms to high-profile leadership changes, the collective response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Aubrey feels like a lasting seismic shift.
But the shift, if there’s truly been one, wasn’t fast enough to save Rayshard Brooks, whose tragic interaction with Atlanta police escalated in a way that reminded me of Sandra Bland’s tragic traffic stop five years ago this July.
I have no deep insights here, but I do wonder: What’s actually changed?
How have you changed?
Maybe, in these recent weeks, you, like General C.Q. Brown, are in the slow-working wheel of self-reflection. Maybe you, too, have been thinking about things and have had new insights into your own past, your education, your beliefs, things you are now ready to reconsider.
Maybe you’ve done what white people do when we want to dig into racism: Read. And maybe that reading has reshaped your mind in ways that might lead to changed behavior, over time.
Maybe you’ve been hands-on and have engaged in difficult conversations, supported black-owned businesses, and given financial support to advocacy organizations. Maybe you’re re-writing your policy manual or calling elected officials or walking in peaceful protest, using your voice as never before.
Maybe you’ve been so hands-on and wrapped up in the emotional charge of the moment that you’re approaching overload but are afraid to let up. This is history in the making, and you’ve been fighting against racism for your whole life, and this time you’re going to help get that ball over the goal line, goddammit, because finally the momentum is real and palpable and powerful.
Here’s the question: What happens when things settle (which they will, eventually), and you return to your normal daily business of living and dying? What ongoing, ordinary behaviors will be proof of your newfound self?
When the Instagram Activism is over, how will it affect your trip to the grocery store, your car insurance renewal, or that home repair project?
When you plan your next company retreat or invite friends for dinner, what will be different?
Here’s a thought: Consider that, whether your current level of involvement is intense or somewhat tentative, you might be seeing new things (or seeing them in a new way), and you’ll have to train yourself to respond in a new way if you truly want to be the change you hope to see.
Think of it as establishing a new habit, remembering that it takes approximately 66 days of consistent, disciplined practice for a habit to stick. To your 30-day goal sheet, maybe you’ll add a new category for at least 21 days of anti-racism practice to anchor your tiny but necessary role in healing the broken world.
This is deep work, and it will take time. Keep going.
And give yourself, and others, some grace.
I have a friend whose long career includes working, years ago, as a charge nurse in an urban hospital emergency room. I talked to her last week about facilitating a small-group discussion, and she said this: “What I learned as a nurse in the ER is that when your anxiety level is a 4, you’re incapable of listening. All of your advanced thinking is shut down. So, patience matters, as does grace.”
A few other things…
How about a couple of oldies but goodies (that are as relevant now as then – I know, because I’ve re-read or re-watched them in the last two weeks):
Malcom Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers (again, I recommend the audiobook over the book-book, but both are terrific and timely)
And, of course, “The Case for Reparations,” which continues to be one of the most compelling essays I’ve ever read. It’s long and requires work to read, but it’s worth it – as is David Brooks’s (much shorter and easier to read) 2019 reflection on “The Case for Reparations” after five years of thought.
Looking for something more contemporary, and maybe some good fiction? How about Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Night Watchman or James McBride’s Deacon King Kong, both of which my book group read recently. (This month we’re reading There, There by Tommy Orange.)
Feeling hopeless or overwhelmed and need a 5-minute respite? Hidden Brain to the rescue.
And new to me, though not new, a sweet, wonderful, comforting treat: Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry Milk
The daylilies are blooming. They are beautiful, and I love them.