What now?

By Pamela Noel

We are at a turning point as a nation. We are not at a turning point of choosing right or left, one political party or another, but a turning point of changing direction. Are we heading upward or downward? Are we going to stand together with open or closed hearts?

I am saddened by the recent events in our country. I am also saddened through my increasing understanding of how persistent the problem of racism continues to be today. Part of my growing awareness is due to the work in which my daughter engages — helping men on “death row” mount their appeals to keep from being executed. She tells me that very often, these men have little or no initial representation at their first trial, limited educational or social support, horrendous early life experiences, are mostly Black, and as a result, have minimal chances to navigate the criminal justice system. The book, and recent movie “Just Mercy” speaks to this in a poignant and eye-opening way.

As an attorney she is constantly opening my eyes and heart to the idea of systemic racism — how so many factors work against the successful positioning of many people to have a life that is free from poverty, and all the problems that accompany it. She has been very good at helping to educate me to this fact that persists into this 21st century.

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We need to awaken to how this “systemic racism” hurts us all. It is not just a Black person’s death that we have just experienced in the death of George Floyd and so many black men and women.   It is the death of Americans. And if it continues, it will be the death of Democracy.

As a white person I have been accorded a great amount of privilege. Again, this has been a growing awareness for me. I had two parents who were both professionally employed, had a secure home life, good public schools, and most importantly, a social network that worked to my advantage when I needed to enter the work force. At one point I thought that “I did it all myself,” not acknowledging the factors that helped me “do it.” I thought that my success was a result of my own intelligence and determination. And yes, these factors helped. But, “my skids were greased” by the community and society into which I was born “white.”

And beyond this privilege, into which I was born, I have to ask myself the question of what is it to be white? How may I have been complicit in perpetuating this racism? How does my “whiteness” limit my empathy? When did I miss opportunities in which I could have done something about it?

If we don’t have this conversation as a nation, nothing will change. And as much as I am resting up here in the mountains I am applauding the “peaceful protests” that are continuing around the country and the globe. I agree with many “conscious” leaders and politicians that this is a pivotal moment in our country’s history.

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If we don’t use this moment to do what is right, we will be committing ourselves to a shadow that will continue to darken our walk into the future. So, as much as I am saddened by the recent events that have occurred I am also hopeful that we will finally learn from our mistakes and do what is needed to correct them.