It’s been about a week since George Floyd called out for his mother, terrified of what was being done to him and fighting for the last breaths of his life. I cannot remove the images of his death from my mind or get the screams and pleas of those witnessing this horrific incident out of my ears. And I shouldn’t. None of us should.
It’s taken me days to digest current events and to muster the internal fortitude to move forward. Not away from, but forward.
Nothing can change what has happened over the past week, and I have to shake myself out of my pre-teen practice of hoping that when I woke up, it was all going to be a bad dream, a nightmare that had only occurred in my sleep. Oh, how I wish that trick could really work.
I cannot know or comprehend the experience of being black in the United States or globally. I have not been treated differently because of the color of my skin—ever. I am a light-skinned Latina, and although I’ve dealt with racism about my heritage, I’ve never experienced being treated differently because of how I look. I’ve rarely been pulled over by the police; never had someone cross the street or lock their car doors when I pass; never been shown houses or not been shown houses in certain neighborhoods when I was purchasing a home; never been treated with fear, hate or discrimination because of my appearance. And the list goes on. I walk through this life without having to endure all of this because I am white. Is that a privilege? Yes. Does that mean I didn’t work hard, have challenges or had to push hard to succeed? Absolutely not. It just means I had (and still have) the privilege to do all of those things to be successful in life without the challenge of being discriminated against because of my skin color.
"What mother should need to fear for her child (or husband, brother, father, daughter…) coming back safely, every single day?"
Although I am light-skinned, my husband and son are not; they are brown, and they are treated differently. One clear-as-day incident was during a vacation when my daughter and I stopped into a gift store while my husband and son went to the Army/Navy store. Aly and I were greeted very nicely by the shop owner and invited to walk around and browse. “Just let me know if you need any help!” we got with a smile. A few minutes later, my husband and son walked in. As they moved into the store, the owner came from behind the counter to follow them. No greeting; no “can I help you?” Just tracking their every move. My daughter witnessed the entire thing and was indignant. “Mom, did you see that? That guy is following them around!” I said yes as I approached my husband to give him a big exaggerated kiss hello. The shop owner quickly scurried back and we left. When our daughter shared what had happened, my husband just smiled and said, “Every day, Aly.” She walks through life with privilege like me; my husband and son do not.
Each and every time we experience another senseless tragedy like this, my mind goes to the mothers. Mothers, who from the day their child is born, are fearful. Fearful of their child being profiled, targeted, harmed and potentially killed because they are black. The mothers and fathers who have tough conversations with their kids, not just about grades, responsibilities and sex, but also about how to act when (not if) you get pulled over, stopped or targeted. How you put your hands where they can be seen, don’t speak and then don’t move…ever. Highlighting places (yes, some whole states) you shouldn’t drive through; clothes you want to avoid (hoodies); toy gun play—never outside, “I don’t care if it’s a Nerf gun!” I think of the mother whose child was just killed and the countless other mothers who upon hearing about the latest death experience a fear for their child that’s crippling because they can’t protect them. What mother should need to fear for her child (or husband, brother, father, daughter…) coming back safely, every single day?
"I might not know the final destination, but what I do know is we can’t stay here any longer."
My dad was in the New York Police Department for 32 years. As a Puerto Rican cop (one of the first), he was often assigned to neighborhoods with higher crime rates. Coming from the South Bronx, himself, he understood the challenges; he also knew that respect on both sides was what forged strong relationships for him in the communities he served. He stood by his oath to protect and serve as do so many police today. I respect those who honor the pledge to keep our communities safe and abhor those who utilize the role to instill fear, hatred and dominance.
I wonder as I’m sure most do: Where do we go from here? Once the news has moved onto the next story, the trials are over, the dead are buried, and the protests subside, where will we be?
I might not know the final destination, but what I do know is we can’t stay here any longer. I can’t stay here any longer. So what can one person do? This is my plan.
First: I am going to get educated on the policies, practices and training requirements of my local police force. Are all on-duty police officers required to wear body cameras and have them turned on immediately when responding to a call? Do they incorporate de-escalation training in their ongoing learning and development? If no to any of these, why?
Second: I am going to vote. I am going to research candidates who have demonstrated support and actively promoted equality. Not just talking about it—have actually done something about it.
Third: I am going to listen, learn and be an upstander. Making sure I act in support of those discriminated against.
Fourth: I am going to continue to educate my children about inclusion, equality and respect.
Fifth: I’m going to hold myself accountable.
Each of us has a role to play; I need to do mine.
Written by Theresa Torres for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.