On May 8, I joined many people across the country and ran 2.23 miles in Ahmaud Arbery’s honor. Ahmaud was out for a jog on February 23 when he was murdered by a former law enforcement officer and his son because Ahmaud looked like someone who had recently burglarized a few homes in the neighborhood. The men who killed him were not taken into police custody until May 7, the day before what would have been Ahmaud’s 26th birthday. His name became a hashtag, and for once, it seemed like the internet agreed on one thing: this was wrong.
I made a commitment to myself that day: I won’t forget about Ahmaud when the run is over or after his story cycles through the news.
In March, Breonna Taylor was shot at least eight times in her bed in the middle of the night when police officers forcibly entered her apartment to serve a search warrant on two men who did not live in Taylor’s apartment complex. Breonna was an EMT in Louisville, Kentucky, and had “big dreams” of a career in healthcare.
On Memorial Day, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. Floyd was already under arrest and in handcuffs when the officer pushed his face to the ground and drove his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost 10 minutes. George Floyd begged for his life, saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe,” just before he died.
Those are just the people we know about recently because they made the news. But we’ve seen this story countless times.
Can you imagine watching this news and personally feeling terrified? Now, imagine putting your son or daughter to sleep at night worrying if the same thing will be his or her fate.
Sit with that for a moment. Put yourself in the shoes of millions of black Americans. Will it be my son or my daughter next? Will it be me?
I cannot be silent anymore
Over 3 years ago, I created a wellness blog called “Chasing Helen.” The blog is about chasing yourself and your goals. For the most part, I’ve stayed close to home focusing on running, routine, and healthy recipes. A couple of times I dipped my toes in other topics like the concept of human decency and how the global pandemic is affecting us. It all falls under the great umbrella of “wellness.”
So, maybe you’re wondering why I chose to write about why black lives matter on my blog “Chasing Helen.”
Because they do matter.
The poet, Cleo Wade, said “Silence doesn’t change the world. It changes us. It shrinks us. It takes our stories and feelings away from us and buries them alive. Unearth what is buried within you. Free yourself in this way.”
This platform is about wellness. Right now, I am not well. We are not well. And I cannot be silent anymore.
I think of Ahmaud every single time I lace up my shoes and head out for a run. I look up at the dark blue pre-dawn sky and ask myself, what would be different about this run if I were a black man?
I think about Breonna Taylor as I fall asleep.
I see George Floyd’s face every time I take a deep breath.
These people were human. They did not deserve to die that way.
Now, Minneapolis is on fire. Protests and demonstrations have escalated nationwide over the weekend. You may be watching this unfold on the news and think to yourself that you do not agree with looting and property damage. You cannot get behind this type of protesting. Or you are heartbroken and troubled that it has come to this.
What we need and what we have to understand, my friends: the anger or unease you might be experiencing watching people looting cities across the country is how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day. George Floyd died. That is the reason we know about him and what happened. He died. How many black men and women have been treated unfairly and unjustly and continue to live every day? We don’t hear about them in the news. Imagine if you lived in a community where every day, someone had his knee on your neck. Every day, someone was oppressing you.
If you need to understand more fully what I’m trying to say, check out Trevor Noah on the Daily Show’s Twitter account. He put words to what I felt but did not fully understand.
That is why I am writing to you. It is time to ask the hard questions of ourselves and of our society. It is time for us to understand.
Something else happened on Memorial Day.
Amy Cooper, a white woman, was walking her dog in the Ramble, a wooded area of Central Park. Christian Cooper, a black man, was bird watching close by when he saw Amy’s dog off leash, clearly violating the leash rules in the Ramble. Christian asked Amy to put her dog on the leash, pursuant to the rules.
Amy refused and grew frantic. She said Christian was threatening her and her dog and that she would call 911 and tell them “an African-American man is threatening my life.” Fortunately, Christian was recording the encounter. The video shows Amy on her phone with 911. “There’s a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet,” she says. “He is recording me and threatening me and my dog.” She goes on to say “I’m being threatened by a man in the Ramble. Please send the cops immediately!” The video ends with Amy finally putting her dog on the leash. You can hear Christian saying “Thank you.”
We all know what could have happened if Christian Cooper had not recorded the encounter; if the police had come; if it had been a white woman’s word against a black man’s word.
Amy Cooper wore a face mask, denoting her compliance with COVID-19, she had a rescue dog, she probably voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Ginia Bellafante explains in the New York Times why Amy Cooper’s use of ‘African-American’ stung. She says, “The moment provided a bracing tutorial in what bigotry among the urbane looks like — the raw, virulent prejudice that can exist beneath the varnish of the right credentials, pets, accessories, social affiliations, the coinage absorbed from HBO documentaries and corporate sensitivity seminars.”
Yes. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. People are dying. Things are hard. But something else was already killing us long before COVID-19.
You know what it is.
I bet you don’t want to say the word out loud or even to yourself because you don’t want to believe that it still exists in 2020. You don’t think it applies to you. You love people — all people. You’re upset. You don’t want to see black women and men suffer and die, or be harassed and threatened. But you also don’t want to have to worry about it too much. There are so many hard things in this life. You’ll feel sad for a little bit, and shake your head in dismay. Maybe you’ll post something on Instagram, acknowledging the heartbreaking news. Then you’ll go back to life as usual.
When I say “you,” I mean me. I don’t want to say the word “racism.” I don’t want to believe racism is here, today. I don’t want to deal with my own implicit bias. It’s too hard to talk about, too hard to deal with.
But we have to say it. We have to acknowledge it is here. We have to deal with it.
Look, I cannot help that I was born a white woman, or that I have been afforded a number of privileges in my life that have nothing to do with my skill or abilities.
I wrote this letter to myself. For my own wellness. I decided to share it with you because I realized that you too might be thinking “I am not racist, I don’t see color.” Or maybe you just don’t think this is your issue.
It is your issue. It is our issue.
Some naysayers might argue that we will never be able to end racism. I don’t buy that. Call me positive, optimistic, or a dreamer; we can do big things. We can make progress. But we cannot continue watching the news in the morning and sitting at our dinner tables at night without discussing what is happening and why. Let’s have the hard conversations.
Some friends have shared that they are having those conversations with their children, spouse, or friends. The number of white friends I see posting important, powerful, and meaningful words about racism, black lives matter, and speaking out on social media gives me hope. Something about the recent events has cracked us open.
Let’s promise each other and ourselves that those words are not made in vain. We won’t mask our fear of tackling racism by slapping a meaningful quote on our Instagram stories. I’ve done it too. Let’s promise to also do the work.
Where do we start?
We start at home. Discuss the current events and what they mean with your closest people. I’m not telling you this is going to be easy, but I have found the following poem by Cleo Wade to be a good road map.
Where to Begin
“The world will say to you:
We need to end racism.
Healing it in your own family.
The world will say to you:
How do we speak to bias and bigotry?
Having the first conversation at your own kitchen table.
The world will say to you:
There is too much hate.
Devote yourself to love.
So much that you can love others
And without judgment.”
Cleo Wade also provides a long list of resources to get us started. This list includes podcasts, movies, TV series, books, articles, instagram accounts, twitter accounts, and so on.
I love people — all people. I am capable of having hard conversations. I will listen, read, watch, discuss. I promise to do the work for my generation and generations to come.
Please, my dear friends, join me.
I will see you out there eventually. In the meantime, keep going. Let’s get to work.