Day of Reckoning

There’s a limit to how much one’s conscience can bear before it transforms from an unpleasant rumbling in your gut to a tsunami of outrage.
I’m a white male with roots in the antebellum south.
I’m also a child of the military spending all my growing years living on military bases and in government subsidized housing.
Race was never a debated issue in our household and racial animus against any race was nonexistent.
I was present on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1964 and witnessed the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

These are just vignettes.  The totality of my life’s experiences did not prepare me for the shock, dismay, outrage, guilt, disappointment, shame, humiliation, remorse and culpability I felt all at once while watching the first days of the trial of the Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, charged in the wrongful death of George Floyd.

The full force of witness testimony is tantamount to a “Day of Reckoning” for me and my wife; a painful accounting of what we’ve failed to value in the stark differences between the realities that shaped our lives and the contrasting realities that have gripped Black Americans and kept most of them trapped in an ugly, hostile world governed by fear, suffering and privation.  It is our America — white America — that has surrounded and confined Blacks and robbed them of their innocence.

The lines that separate our two cultures are not always visible, nor are they exact.  They exist and are profoundly debilitating.
The painful irony echoed from the witness stand throughout this trial reveals a scaring sense of guilt, survivor’s guilt, all have borne.  All were Samaritan’s.  Their offerings of kindness denied or ignored; lost in a cultural gulf of malevolent indifference.
Not all witnesses are Black.  One was a white female EMT.  She’s a Minneapolis firefighter and was on her day off when she came upon Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. She observed Mr. Floyd’s distress, identified herself as a first responder-EMT and offered medical assistance.  She was immediately rebuffed by a different, but equally isolating, form of discrimination — misogyny.  They challenged her credentials then belittled her offer of assistance.

Fate played a role in gathering these witnesses at the exact time and location when the subject crime was committed.  They stood on the sidewalk using cell phone cameras to immortalize what others may betray.  The distance separating them from the suffering Mr. Floyd can’t be measured in feet; in fact, it’s an insuperable chasm made so by centuries of cultural determinism that exalts whiteness at the expense of Blacks.

Evidenced by their tearful testimony, they all stood in helpless agony listening to a dying man plead for his life.

The memory of this moment haunts them still as it will for decades of tomorrow’s to come.

Sadly, as my wife and I struggle with our reckoning, (white) Republican legislators across the country, yes I’m invoking politics into this discussion, have introduced more than 360 bills aimed at legislating discrimination; specifically, voter suppression.  Their aim is to suppress, restrict and diminish the exercise of the Constitutional right of Blacks to vote.

White supremacy is real.  It’s alive and well and working hard to perpetuate white majority rule which they fear will vanish in 2045, less than a quarter century from today.

My wife and I hope and pray “the reckoning” we’ve experienced this week is contagious and will spread understanding and good-will like a “good” viral contagion.

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