“You must struggle to remember this past in all its nuance, error, and humanity. You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine.”
-Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
I was sitting at the dinner table with my husband and he related to me that a man had been murdered, talked about the video, and I cut him off and said I couldn’t listen. I was on social media later that night, and saw an image of George Floyd’s face on the ground. Sickening, horrifying, the modern lynching of black people by a police state that has taken over and sought to legitimize the ongoing oppression, destruction, and organized killing of black people, continues to appear in the media, at a much lower level than it appears on the streets. Nonetheless it does appear and continues to rise up like the opium smoke of a white supremacist power, sedated and effete, lounging in the White House, the white Congress. It is the white world that continues to clog and pollute the collective stream of humanities’ consciousness and hope for a better world. It is the scum rising to the top, bubbling there in full view, waiting to be skimmed off.
What do I do as a white person, a white woman living here in 2020, watching these events in social media, in the collective consciousness? We must first educate ourselves on the full measure of the atrocities of history and their ongoing impact on our uncertain future and our precarious present. To write, to riot, to march, to meditate, to speak, to listen, for a possible solution to the current dilemmas against which we, people of good conscience, are collectively raging.
I tend to shy away from the listicle approach, being almost unhinged I think, verging on deranged from the shock, disgust, revulsion, rage, and the subsequent passion for change which it ignites in me, a fire which burns in almost all Muslims, if not almost all people. So, you can find listicles, itemized how-to-lists instructions on how to take action, 75 ways for white people to fight white supremacy, white anti-racist groups, reading lists, and most of you have already seen these repeated in our emails, and have already read them, checked off what we have done and what we have left to do.
I offer another item to the list, which is connected in my own words to my work and the work of people working in liberation psychology, especially Ignacio Martin-Baro: Recover historical memory – fight historical amnesia. The tragedy of George Floyd exists in the overall context of history. I believe we must keep conscious, even as the powerful and well-intentioned, often effective work of social media blasts us with each new incident. We are in the midst of the flow of history. George Floyd’s murder, Ahmaud Arberry’s murder, Breonna Taylor’s murder, all the lives remembered and fought for by #blacklivesmatter, by #sayhername, are inexpressibly valuable, and exist in a greater flow of the ongoing black holocaust. This should in no way make us desensitized, complacent, or apathetic. Rather, it should sink our roots deep into the flow of our collective struggle for liberation, it should empower us to connect with the deep and powerful current of our collective fight, our collective battle for justice. We can and must fight every battle. However, each battle that we fight is in a larger war that has been going on for centuries.
This thought for me grounds me, and when the individual stories reach the media, when the individual riots flood the news, it helps me to reach down into my inner resources as I grapple with the emotions that it unleashes in my heart and mind. For what it is worth, if it isn’t helpful, disregard my thoughts, or my solutions, which you would have done either way.
“It is fair to say that we have witnessed an evolution in the United States from a racial caste system based entirely on exploitation (slavery), to one based largely on subordination (Jim Crow), to one defined by marginalization (mass incarceration). While marginalization may sound far preferable to exploitation, it may prove to be even more dangerous. Extreme marginalization, as we have seen throughout world history, poses a risk of extermination. Tragedies such as the Holocaust in Germany or ethnic cleansing in Bosnia are traceable to the extreme marginalization and stigmatization of ethnic groups.”
-Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
This refusal mentioned, taking individual incidents out of their historical context, and to being vigilant about the overall truth of history should in no way diminish our efforts. Color of Change is working with other groups to advocate for George Floyd’s murderers to be denied pensions, never be allowed to work as police again, and to be brought to trial for murder. All efforts to make this a reality must continue. Whether we sign petitions, make phone calls, speak at rallies, attend protests, or in any way act up to the fullest extent, we must in every way act as vigorously as possible. This is a battle.
The Quran direct us: “Oh you who believe, stand up for justice.” And we must stand up in every way that we are able as part of our God given duty as Muslims. It is not a passing thought, or a social media post. This struggle to stand for justice must invigorate our entire lives as it is a matter of life and death… for everyone. It’s about creating a world and a future for all people where life is better, where peace is possible, where the balance is restored on earth, and we live in accordance with the law of God in our societies around the world.
“Let us march on ballot boxes, until we send to our city councils, state legislatures, and the United States Congress men who will not fear to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God. Let us march on ballot boxes until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor. For all of us today the battle is in our hands. The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways to lead us easily to quick solutions. We must keep going. My people, my people, listen! The battle is in our hands.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Our God is Marching On!” from the steps of the state capitol after the Selma-to-Montgomery march on March 25, 1965
In the face of these horrors we see in the media, what is there to do? In the civil rights struggle, the ongoing call to take the battle to the ballot sounded over and over. We must take the battle to the ballot this year. We must work to elect a better government. Everyone has to not lost hope for our election. COVID19 has many people struggling to see how we can win the presidential election against Trump, who without doubt is a representative of white supremacy and the forces that have murdered not only George Floyd, Ahmaud Arberry,and Breonna Taylor, but countless beautiful and precious individuals throughout the centuries merely based on their race. However, we must not lose hope, and must continue to pray and work and fight for the best outcome in the upcoming election. We must take this battle to the ballot.
“When you expand the civil-rights struggle to the level of human rights you can then take the case of the black man in this country before the nations in the U.N. You can take it before the General Assembly. You can take Uncle Sam before a world court. But the only level you can do it on is the level of human rights. Civil rights keeps you in his pocket. Civil rights means you are asking Uncle Sam to treat you right. Human rights are something you were born with. Human rights are your God-given right…Expand the civil rights struggle to the level of human-rights, take it into the United Nations, where our African brothers can throw their weight on our side, where our Asian brothers can throw their weight on our side, where our Latin-American brothers can throw their weight on our side, and where 800 million Chinamen are sitting there waiting to throw their weight on our side.”
-Malcom X, “The Ballot or the Bullet” from a talk at Cory Methodist Church, from the symposium “The Negro Revolt- What Comes Next?” on April 3, 1964
We can also take the advice of Malcolm X on how to fight this fight. In the battle against police brutality and institutionalized racism, we must unite with people of good conscience around the world. We are not alone, and do not need to stand alone, here in the United States, or anywhere in the world. We are united together as believers in our fight for justice. We can call upon our global community to put pressure on the US government to follow better practices in our police forces. Pressure from the world at large would make this conversation move forward. This is what Malcom X called for, and it is a logical thought in the face of the entrenched apathetic and callous racism of white institutions in the US.
And finally, one more time, in November 2020, and every election in the future…
We must take the battle to the ballot.