The Day … The Moment

This month, on June 19th—Juneteenth—many in the black community will celebrate the end of slavery. In a twisted chain of events, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were the last in the country to learn their freedom had been granted. While emancipation was effective on January 1, 1863, Union soldiers didn’t bring the message to Texas until June 19, 1865, almost two-and-a-half years later. That was the moment.

derek chauvinWill the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin also be remembered as the moment? Will May 25, 2020 stand as the day when America finally understood racism and bias are real, the tipping point, the day leading to racial justice, not just for Floyd, but for all African Americans?

The image of Chauvin, with his hand casually in his pocket as he pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck until he died, could be the picture marking a racial epiphany for America. When I watched the videos of Floyd’s murder, I thought of the grainy images from a century ago of smiling white families, ‘enjoying’ the prospect of a lynching. In case you missed that in history, men, women, and children often came out on a Sunday afternoon to be ‘entertained’ by a human being twisting at the end of a hangman’s rope.

Black bodies swinging in the summer breezeStrange fruit hanging from the poplar trees…” sang Billie Holiday in 1939.

The song’s lyrics originated as a poem – ‘Bitter Fruit’—written by Jewish-American writer, teacher, and songwriter Abel Meeropol. Helynching wrote it in 1937 as a protest against lynching. Although fearing reprisal, Holiday sang the piece with specific rules for that part of her performance. There must be reverence. She would close with it; the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on her face, and there would be no encore.

Eighty-one years later, was Chauvin—sensing his own limelight—offering a macabre form of sick entertainment, and conscious of it? Mesmerizing the crowd, showing the power he had over George Floyd as he cavalierly murdered an unarmed, handcuffed man? Black oppression is real. Has white America finally got it?

I think—I hope—so. I see and hear a difference in the language used and actions taken. Sadly, the event isn’t substantively different from so many in the past and the marchers with uplifted signs may seem the same, but the responses by those in power seem different. I see chiefs of police kneeling in solidarity with peaceful protesters. News commentators acknowledge that most protesters are nonviolent, but agitators have been LDN-L-PROTEST-LA-0601brought in to foment hate and destruction. I hear elected officials stating the unrest in their cities and states has been brewing for decades as racism and bias have gone unacknowledged and unaddressed. I see Facebook posts asking how white allies can be engaged. People are looking not just at what happened, but why it happened and they are calling for change.

It is far too early to know where these responses may lead. But I don’t recall this level of what seems to be racial understanding being revealed in the past. Are these just platitudes, idle gestures? Maybe. I hope not. I prefer to think there was a confluence of events, a perfect storm. The pandemic with the resulting unemployment of thousands already underemployed. The murder of Ahmaud Arbery in February. Breonna Taylor, killed in her home in Louisville in March. The racial profiling of Christian Cooper combined with the killing of George Floyd. All have revealed—powerfully and clearly—racial injustice in America. I feel a difference. I pray this is not merely my hope. This has to be real. America cannot continue as it is.

We know our country has been flawed from its beginning. Founded on racism and bias in favor of wealthy white men. That faulty foundation has remained stable for centuries. The cracks and fissures now seem too large to ignore. We may finally be ready to address the original sin and the decades-long repercussions.

I am fully committed to envisioning and creating a racially just, racially equitable America. The time is now, this is the moment.

20 Replies to “The Day … The Moment”

  1. Excellent post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts at this critical time. America is at that fork in the road. I pray that despite the actions of our pathetic president and the racist agitators, the vast majority of people will demand change and it will happen. I feel cautiously optimistic, but it will take voting someone else into the White House. I know how I’ll vote in November. Tamara, keep writing, sharing, and teaching.

  2. My daughter, Mercedes Soria, “discovered” the poem “Strange Fruit” when she was in high school, sometime between 2000 and 2004. It had a very profound effect on her. She memorized it, and I believe she even wrote about it in an essay. She read it to me, several times, and I was also struck by its simple metaphor and horrible topic. Even thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes. Now, close to 20 years later, it is even more relevant and sorrowful than when I first heard it. I pray that our country can change to a land where compassion and decency and true equality will become the overwhelming hope and reality.

  3. I too hope you are right! That, finally, at long last, this awful moment is THE moment that begins a lasting change.

  4. Tamara,
    I have read many of your posts. I just wanted to thank you for your courageous, compassionate, clear voice. I am a white woman who understands we need to do better. Thank you for your voice. I pray we are listening.

  5. Hope. Essential. Love to hear it in the authentic chord of your voice, Tamara.

  6. I am hopeful and praying this has finally brought many to kneel in solidarity!! I agree it feels different.

  7. Time will tell – keep writing. I hear you and will pray that this indeed is the moment.

  8. There is so much to do. I see police kneeling with protesters, but will they confront racism of fellow police in the heat of the moment? I’ve realized the wisdom of supporting and learning from seasoned, black led activist groups with clear agendas and political experience. But where is the voice of the Congress when 45 threatens to declare war on our citizens? This perfect storm has made the crimes undeniable, and I a lot of white people have joined the fight. I just hope more of us see that we have been the problem. I’m in for the long haul. I just hope we can get it right this time.

  9. I’m pleased you are optimistic about the possibility of this being a real tipping point. It does feel like the crescendo of events you mention plus the obvious, disparate impact of the pandemic on minority communities, has changed the awareness and understanding that substantial structural changes must be made.

    Now we must work to make it true. Thanks for your continuing blog posts which always provoke reflection.

  10. I’m really grateful for this blog and for this post in particular. I’ll be sharing as widely as I can. Thank you, Tamara.

  11. Thanks Tamara for your this blog. Unfortunately, there has been too many MOMENTS that could have, should have made a difference. Perhaps the pandemic will not allow us to go back to our “lives as usual” and SO this MOMENT will be the Change we need.

    1. I know, Sharon. I know. Protests after Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner and the list goes on. The nationwide response, the length of that response and the growing sensitivity to the existence of racism seems deeper and more profound –not just from the protesters, but from those who hold institutional power and can hear the protests and respond to them. We have to hold leaders accountable and call out those who have been silent. In the past, there has been deafening silence from institutional leaders. That does not feel the same this time. Let’s join forces and make this time different. We, WE the people, have power, particularly when white allies join the choir. Yes? No?

      1. In a nutshell… YES!

        Since protestors in RVA demanded the removal of the Monument Statues ( just blocks from my house) there has been a real reckoning. Some traditional people have actually moved out of Richmond leaving more space for progressives who have pride in our city finally getting up to speed with racial justice issues. There are open conversations between neighbors and groups and changes are truly being made here. It’s remarkable!
        Way over-due of course, but this year certainly does feel like the beginning of real change here in Richmond.
        I’m pleased to live here.

  12. Thank you, Tamara. I commit to doing this work for the long haul, long after the protests end and the nation is tempted to look away. I commit to keep listening to Black leaders and to intervene to dismantle the structures and mindset of white supremacy. I commit to continue learning so I can do this better. I commit to accepting correction when I make mistakes and not letting fear prevent me from taking action. I, too, want to believe that this is a turning point.

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