In the 15th century, there was money to be made if you were willing to risk traveling East on the high seas. Importing goods like silk, spices, and tea into Europe was a lucrative endeavor. Like any other business, if you can figure out how to be cheaper, provide a better product, or be more efficient than your competitors, you stood to make more money.
So, new routes were forged to get back and forth more quickly. New deals were cut with providers and farmers to provide goods at a better rate. Each voyage, it seemed, added a new spice or other product that Europeans hadn’t seen before.
We all know the story about Christopher Columbus. To make a long story short, he traveled westward instead of heading east, hoping to find a quicker path to making money. He hoped that the circumference of the Earth (most people with any education already knew it wasn’t flat) was small enough to make the unknown trip worth the effort.
When he landed in the Caribbean, he wasn’t even halfway to Asia in that direction. He had come a long way, but wasn’t quite there yet.
The question then would have to be, for Columbus or anyone on a similar journey, is what you are after worth the effort to keep going – to put your boat back in the water?
Study the last 200 years of our nation. In 1820, the only people to have the rights that we all hold as adults today were white male landowners. The right to vote, the ability to have a voice in decisions and public opinion, and really just the ability to feel human often fell within that demographic.
Any white male that didn’t own land may have had some of those rights, but was still considered a second-class citizen. While the hatred that built up was directed towards anyone that had money, even the slightest bit of it, blaming others with a different background was another easy target. There were slurs for anyone that was Italian, German, Hispanic, Irish, or any person of color.
Those that were not white and did not own land never even made it up to second class. A person of color expected to live a life of servitude with no visions of the generations to follow to be able to change that. They were treated (even with rights that were slowly afforded them over time) as not just second- or third-class citizens, but as less than human.
Sounds like something out of history books, right? Looking at someone with dark skin and immediately thinking of them as less than human are the tales of old.
Typically, I can write about something that hits me on an emotional level with relative ease. Granted, it probably still needs editing and re-reading several times before I roll it out, but the words are there.
But, sometimes, when something colors so far outside of the lines that I can’t make sense of it, I just don’t have the words.
Last week, I found myself there.
Over time, I have built up a level of cynicism in regards to the national media. So, when I first read the story about Ahmaud Arbery, I told myself that sensationalism must play a part. The details just couldn’t be true. They just couldn’t.
But, that’s because my perspective isn’t first hand. It’s vicarious through others, but it’s still not first hand, and never will be.
I often make the assumption that because I can be friends with, care about, or just have general respect for anyone without factoring in their skin color – that everyone else does too. But, I am wrong.
Let me tie in my ramble about nautical exploration. Between the time of the Civil War, through the early and mid-20th century, up until modern times – the United States has come a long way. But, we are at an impasse.
While a man with a black father can run for (and win) an election to become the President of the United States of America, a black woman can be named the Secretary of State, and CEOs of companies from small to large can be men and women of color; until the day comes where human comes before skin color in the minds of all of us – we aren’t there yet.
I will tell you the part in Ahmaud’s story that stopped me. Wait, why don’t you try to guess.
Was it the part where two men chased him down with guns because he was jogging through their neighborhood?
Maybe it was the part where those same men actually went back into their house to arm themselves, taking out any argument of an act of emotion or passion?
Surely it was the detail about how those men assumed authority over Mr. Arbery by giving him orders, and then justified what came next by his refusal to comply?
How about the part where the friend and attorney of those same men thought that releasing the video would actually vindicate them of wrongdoing?
No, all of those are good guesses and fantastic reason to be appalled, but not the right answer.
The part that stopped me and made me really shake my head came after we knew all of that. It came when I read quotes from Ahmaud’s mother, Wanda Jones, in an interview in the first couple of days after the story hit the national media.
During the interview, Ms. Jones pointed out that Ahmaud was “well mannered,” and that he was a “yes sir and yes ma’am kind of person.”
Sounds nice. Sounds reasonable. But, do you know why that gave me pause? Because, as a black mother, she felt like it was necessary to mention that he wasn’t a bad guy. To me, it went beyond telling me about her son. She naturally knew that the world we live in might need more of a reason to support her side of the story.
I have been in education for almost 20 years. I have had well mannered, hard-working, intelligent, funny, caring students. I have had students with behavioral problems, single-parent homes, learning disabilities, and terrible attitudes as well. The common denominator in either of those groups has never been skin color.
So, Ms. Jones, you don’t have to justify Ahmaud’s right to live.
Let me tell those of you with your head in the sand. Racism is still real. Hatred still exists. There are people that treat others as sub-human based solely on outward appearance.
Until all of us that have sense and truly try to live by the great dream of judging one another by the content of our character get truly offended by those that don’t. Until we shout our dissidence with a loud voice. Until we refuse to ignore the ignorance of those that we know. Until all of this. . .
We aren’t there yet.
And, by not addressing something, you are endorsing it. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King again, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. . . Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
So, my challenge isn’t that you shouldn’t be racist. It’s that you stop endorsing it with your silence. Not because it’s the right thing to do (even though it is). It isn’t just because it’s what Jesus would do (even though He would). But, it’s because my friends that are black, my former teammates that are Asian, my college roommate that is African-American, and my late son that was Hispanic are the same perfect creation as you are.
Let’s put our ship back in the water and sail in the right direction. A better direction.