A Virulent Scourge and the Death of George Floyd

The death of George Floyd a few days ago touches on a virulent problem I first encountered as a skinny, 12-year-old white girl immigrating to the United States. We moved to Ann Arbor, MI, 30 miles outside Detroit, MI, during the race riots and civil rights movement back in the mid-1960s. A budding writer, I cut my teeth on the craft by writing essays and articles, enraged and impassioned by all that I saw and heard and experienced. In school, we read books like Black Like Me, To Kill a Mocking Bird, 1984, Animal Farm. My rage and anger and distress honed my voice and skill. Mr. Stewart taught me how to think, and my heros became Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy--both gunned down the spring I was 14. Knocking me off my feet and filling my teenage heart with despair.
Brenda Wilbee

That summer in the shadow of their deaths, we drove across the country, MI to the West Coast as was our custom, with me laying in the back of our Rambler hardly able to move from a depression I didn't understand. My depression deepened when we drove back home, social injustice of any kind now deeply embedded in my DNA, and I searched for new heros. Dick Gregory, Malcolm X, and I kept on writing.

I've spent my entire life angry and in a rage against this prevalent hatred--both in-your-face and cleverly disguised. As a single mother, I was exposed to a far broader and far more subtle prejudice . . . against the poor, the weak, the disadvantaged, the sick, of women everywhere. Humanity, it seems, must have its scapegoat, victims named and stones hurled. The vulnerable are told over and over and in so many ways, that they have no one to blame for their woes but themselves. And so my outrage grew and knew no bounds and it wore me out physically and emotionally, writing and writing and trying to chip away at this notion that victims are responsible for their own victimization. The "Oh, she's just playing the victim" a terrible and ungodly echo of "Oh, he's just playing the race card."

When my children were about the age I was when I first immigrated, I had to stop prescribing to magazines and newspapers and listening to the news. I had to limit my exposure to such hatred and disregard. The stress was too damaging and taking its toll.

Still, I kept writing--until a Christian magazine sent me a long list of names of those who'd unsubscribed from the publication because of my writing. They sent, too, the blistering letters-to-the-editor railing against me. Now God, it seemed, had somehow become part of a team that shunned the vulnerable and called them all liars. I didn't know what to do with that.

Today my exhaustion over this country's hatred remains--specifically with "Christians" who, like the readers of ______ Lutheran, clothe themselves in white supremacy and middle class values and turn a blind eye to brown-skinned children in cages. It's all too painful to give full vent, and I am so weary and worn by the hypocrisy. I'm no longer 12 with the impassioned energy of youth. I'm too old to withstand even my own emotions. The racism and indifference I met in 1964 has escalated into a new, broad-spectrummed virulence I feel helpless to combat.

In the '60s, it was Democrats fighting Republicans for the civil rights of African Americans--a clear line. Today it's entire police departments and neighbors who assume black or brown skin means an assault on their safety and shoot to kill. It's white people who retort "white lives matter" to silence "black lives matter," an evil (yes, I believe evil) attempt to excuse the beating of, shooting at, and kneeling on black men's necks until they die, while unconcerned and apathetic white officers look on. The battle lines are now blurred as racism explodes, fueled--and I'll jump in here--by a president who threatens military force against those who rise up and scream "NO MORE!"

I wonder. Is it because our schools long ago stopped requiring children to read books like The Handmaid's Tale, the Diary of Anne Frank, Love Wins, The New Jim Crow, no longer teaching them to connect themselves with the abuses all around and their responsibility in the ugly thick of it all? Have we taught the last two generations how to look away? How not to care? How to rationalize? Have we taught them that hatred and people don't matter? Is white middle class comfortability the message we now give them ... and ourselves?

My response to the evil thinking of racial inferiority and our cultural disdain for single mothers, people on welfare, food stamp recipients, immigrants who worked the fields (what moochers! breaking our economy! taking our jobs, having children for higher welfare checks!) has been my writing, yes, but also an avowed declaration before God to raise my children to be compassionate and aware. And to vote Democrat as my only real means to ensure legislation to protect the rights of all who needlessly suffer.

Is it enough?

I wonder. Will it take the wars of the 1960s to curb systemic violence and disregard for anyone not healthy, white, and middle-class? Will it take mobs shouting "NO MORE!" Braving possible military confrontation? Will it take violence for violence and a willingness to die like the Freedom Fighters? Does humanity call us to the frontlines? Does God and all that is divine beg us to stand up and take on the unfinished business of Dr. Martin Luther King?

I don't know. These are days that take me back to junior high, twelve years old and undone by what ought not to be.