To better grasp what is going on in our nation right now since the public execution of George Floyd, I would like to suggest that we must actively practice empathy. As white people, that requires listening carefully to our black fellow citizens, and doing our utmost to imaginatively put ourselves in their shoes and really open ourselves to a troubling reality that we can easily and usually avoid.
So I have been reading many essays and watching many interviews, and it is helping me and it is humbling me as the vicious and deadly racist underbelly of the so-called American Dream is so fully exposed to our view. This is a new moment of reckoning, and we must not turn away.
Here are some of the clearest and most moving communications I have encountered. Special thanks to Rabbi Shir Yaakov Feit for bringing most of these to my attention. I hope you take the time to absorb them all – and then, if you find yourselves going down the YouTube rabbit hole, you will find countless other thought-provoking and worthwhile interviews being archived. Many people, white and black, care deeply and are inquiring broadly.
Here is an essay by Lonnae O’Neal speaking as a black mother, reflecting on George Floyd’s final words.
Listen to Amber Ruffin, an African American comedy writer for “Late Night with Seth Meyers”, as she describes her experience.
Listen to Trevor Noah, the brilliant young South African-born host of the Daily Show, give his perspective on American racism and the broken social contract of American life.
And remember this poem by the prophetic Langston Hughes:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Our ancient sages engaged in a famous debate: which should take precedence, study or action? The consensus is that study should take precedence, as it will lead us to more thoughtful and righteous actions. May we listen and learn from our fellow citizens of color, so that our actions can then be informed by real empathy for and understanding of the corrosive reality that they face every day in the United States of America. In the midst of the suffering and the horror, we can participate in this moment of awakening, and then take real steps to combat racism on all levels – from awareness of our own conditioning to the systemic oppression structured into our society. It is within our power to undo some of racism’s most toxic and deadly effects. Let us grasp this moment, and not stand idly by.