By Jamie Kirk
Can you believe 2020? There were so many things that occurred in our fine country. From the pandemic to taped conversations about the known severity of the coronavirus from lawmakers, to Georgia turning blue, to the untimely death of Kobe Bryant, the annual For the Kid Toy Party, and the Peachtree Road Race both being virtual and the closing of Frogs in midtown. And those are just off the top of my little pea brain! But none of the events of the year top what happened with George Floyd.
Yes, there are several other instances of racial injustices that occurred in 2020. The names and the unbearable situations are still even hard to hear. Names like Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and Dion Johnson. Black people that are no longer with us because of extreme police force and exceptionally poor judgment, and inappropriate actions. People that got up, went to work, cared for their families, and were sons, husbands, daughters, girlfriends, and friends just like us; were killed at the hands of police brutality.
Things were bad for so very long, and then they were not so bad, and then they got bad again. Even though I was not born yet (!), I believe that the ’60s were a period in our history where people really took action and stood up for crappy treatment that they felt was wrong against others. In pictures and the history books, on the surface, it seems to have been a time that, regardless of political affiliation, neighborhood, county, or religious beliefs, there appeared to be a common purpose of “coming together.” A purpose that didn’t matter how you voted, who you voted for, or even if you felt the government was out to get you; you just did the right thing. Unapologetically and authentically.
Fast forward many, many years, we made our way through the tumultuous (yet fun) 70s, the AIDS epidemic, the Iran war, Katrina, a president being impeached, a housing crisis, the first Black president. And then, we turned back the clocks about 55 years. All of the progress and unity, all of the positive momentum ending in efforts of equal pay for women, legalized gay marriage, and universal healthcare, all seemed to be washed away by an administration that did not support civil rights for all. In parallel with not supporting fundamental human rights, the country had gotten “cocky” and extremely vocal about NOT addressing systemic racism and social inequality.
You could see it in the eyes, through media coverage, that our country was back-sliding right into the black hole of which we had climbed out of, battered and bruised. We were labeled conservatives and liberals, not humans. We were pitted against one another and could not voice our opinion for fear of being ostracized on social media or not being invited to Thanksgiving dinner because of our beliefs. As a country, we were not on the same page. We didn’t see eye to eye and were seemingly okay, just ignoring our country’s divisiveness. You were either leaning left or leaning right; there was no middle. And then something happened that made us choose a side.
When we all watched the video of George Floyd having his neck pinned down by a police officer for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, screaming for his mother, it changed all of us. Some changed a little; others changed a lot. You could not watch that video and still be the same. The video of George Floyd opened the eyes of every American. We could no longer act like we didn’t see it. We saw it. All of the rumors, the anomalies of co-workers being stopped because they were “driving while black,” the neighborhoods that were not welcoming to all races, and finally seeing police brutality in action and in real-time and on camera. Up until now, many of us were comfortable turning the other way.
For so long, we made excuses to justify racial injustice. We were conditioned not to make snap judgments until you “saw the tape until the end.” We sorta always thought our black co-worker did run late a little more than the rest of the team, which was why they were not promotable. I mean, what was he/she doing out that late at night anyway? These excuses made us comfortable not having to address the root cause, not the symptoms, of what was going on in our country. But we all saw that tape, and we realized we could not hold on any longer to the knot in our stomach; we had to LET GO.
As a world, we came together and sent the signal: we aren’t going to take this anymore. Counties protested. People walked off their job. Signs were made, children were out protesting with their parents and learning how to stand up for what they believed in. Companies granted employees time away from work to handle the emotions they were having. Things were different. When you are forced to let go, especially involuntarily, it hurts. It hurts to acknowledge we were wrong, it hurts to recognize someone in the mirror we were ashamed of, and it hurts that we have relatives that we now know are racists. In 2020 we were forced to choose sides. And not picking a side is actually choosing a side. It was time to do the right thing.
But yes, we did have some flexibility in the definition of “the right thing.” This was not defined for us, and there was no playbook. We saw first-time mayors of major cities deal with curfews, protests, daily briefings, and police call-outs during their shifts. Nothing about what was happening was normal. We were all charged with finding and living out our own normal. For some folks, it was marching every night or perhaps making a sign to put in their window. Many non-black people made a call or reached out via text to say, “I stand with you.” That’s the thing about doing the right thing. The right thing or the right decision is one that feels good and gives you a sense of peace. When you practice doing the right thing, it feels natural, and no one gets hurt. You don’t feel used, and you don’t feel that you are using someone else. Equality is about each person having a fair, reasonable, and prudent chance at all that life has to offer, without reservations or conditions.
Black history month will mean so much this year because so many people were impacted by Black history in 2020. We can’t turn back, and we can’t make excuses anymore about “not knowing” or “not having experienced anything racially insensitive.” We all saw or at least know about the George Floyd video. Most of us have heard the name, Breonna Taylor. We can no longer turn a blind eye to a country that does have a systemic racism problem. Just because we don’t have a solution doesn’t mean we have to give up. We can’t give up. We have made the first step, which was letting go of our preconceived notions of what qualified as inequality.
Inequality looks like many things to different people. To a transgender person, it looks like a friend being killed by a “John” because he feared his secret would get out. To some, inequality looks like making $10,000 less than a male executive because she has the letters Ms. in front of her name. Inequality may be having to put down twice the amount to qualify for their mortgage. For some, inequality looks like your office not having a prayer room. Inequality, racism, social injustice, police brutality, bullying, verbal or mental abuse are wrong, and we, as a country, are not willing to stay silent. We have made peace with letting go of people or businesses that will support anything that is not decent and right.
At this time in our history, it is our obligation to let go. If we are 100% honest, holding on is hard. Burdens are lifted when the heart is seemingly lighter. It’s easier to move on and allow peace, harmony, and human decency to prevail, rather than being stuck hoping against hope. I remain hopeful; we just have to be.
Jamie Kirk works in Marketing for an automotive company. When he is not traveling for work, he enjoys a good spin class, running, hiking, and all Big Ten College sports.