An unspeakable emotional burden

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The murder of George Floyd has sparked nationwide protests unlike anything I’ve ever seen. 

The event itself wasn’t particularly unique. These murders happen all too frequently. But our ability to watch it so up close was more unique. We saw Floyd pleading for mercy, crying for his mother. We saw the life slowly drain out of him. It wasn’t an accident. It was the conscious choice of at least four police officers knowingly being filmed in broad daylight.

The video has forced us to confront police brutality and death in a way that many white people haven’t had to before. It is viscerally upsetting and impossible to ignore.

The absolute horror of that scene makes it tempting to immediately dive into whatever we can do to prevent it from happening again. We call our representatives. We join a protest. We demand change at our workplaces.

This is all great, vital work. Of course, we must push for tangible change. 

But I worry that too often this type of action comes at the expense of what is perhaps deeper, more meaningful work: continuing to be with that pain and horror, allowing ourselves to see and feel all the pain that hasn’t been caught on video. Not just that of George Floyd. Not just for those Black Americans that have died at the hands of police. 

America has inflicted centuries of pain, terror, and indignity on black people. It’s in the very DNA of this country. The murders. The scapegoating. The poverty and inequality. The generations of physical and emotional trauma. The arrogant insistence that America stands for liberty and justice, while so consistently and utterly failing to deliver them.

Out country has placed an unspeakable emotional burden on people of color for centuries. New policies can never heal this. New policies are necessary, but not enough. They do not absolve us. Our work must also be to — as much as is humanly possible — shift the emotional burden of this heinous history, and the emotional work of undoing it, away from its victims and onto those who have benefited from it.

White people: What would it look like for us to truly feel, reckon with, and take responsibility for this unspeakable emotional burden we’ve created?

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