In the Eye of the Storm—The Truth About Our Humanity
Even a young child will understand that the most vulnerable people ought to be prioritized for protection and assistance.
On this same basis we instinctively—unless we have severe socio and psychopathological illness—have compassion for babies and children. They need us, and we don’t castigate them for that. We help them. Similarly, we help the elderly and the disabled instead of finding ways to hurt them. It’s not because we angels are doing our good deed for the day. Acting this way is our most basic moral human obligation.
In the same way, we ought to know that often the lives that need aid should be of extra concern to us. As a nation, this should be the first priority. These may be the lives of those stuck under the shredding machinery of systematic injustice. On the one hand, this machinery seems impersonal, and we feel powerless against it. But on the other hand, people created it, and people can transform it. The U.S.A. has not lived up to being a trustworthy democracy. It hasn’t lived up to the shining ideals of its creed of offering life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for those who call our country home. We are still aspiring to these ideals, and we have a long way to go. These wrongs are never more obvious than when a group cries out for help and instead of assistance (or even rudimentary compassion) receives repudiation.
The #hashtag Black Lives Matter erupted onto social media after unarmed youngster Treyvon Martin was gunned down by vigilante George Zimmerman who was subsequently acquitted of his charge of second-degree murder in the case.
Once Black Lives Matter was trending there came an immediate response, “Blue Lives Matter”. As many billboards, signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts, and various messaging of this phrase flooded our cultural awareness, I realized that there was disturbing cultural violence happening against Black people trying to be heard and seen. It came down like a hammer from a machine designed to destroy. White people in power and their admiring sympathizers were willing to endanger many more Black people by disregarding their lives and shouting down their cries for help. “All Lives Matter” messaging came along too. Both phrases asserted dominance and power in efforts to redirect the notions that didn’t directly benefit white power. They strove to drown out voices telling the truth of systemic injustices suffered by Black people. Worse than that, these actions revealed in those sympathizers and power brokers something diabolical they also propagated in our society at large: a cruel indifference for the obvious suffering of others.
The same sentiment was underscored in the national response to the COVID pandemic. Black people in America became an early casualty of our country’s common practice of neglect. The horrifying statistics reflected what long-standing discrimination and systemically harmful policies can do to certain communities and ethnic concentrations. These most vulnerable and the most susceptible to death and hospitalization did not get first priority or direct protection. Covidtracker.com reports that Black people suffered 1.4 times as many deaths as white people.
Let’s remember the truth about our humanity that the Korean language helps us understand. In Korean, the phrase Black Lives Matter translates to Black Lives Are Precious. The phrase sounds like what all Americans should have heard in the first place when the cry came as a keening from the Black community. Of course, Black lives matter, but also Black lives are precious lives that always —and inherently—deserve respect, care, and every necessary protection so Black people can live full lives that are also free from fear.
Even though the frenzy of COVID has diffused it seems we are only in the eye of a bigger storm. I don’t mean Monkeypox, I mean the kind of societal maelstrom that can surge into any host of situations where Black people and other vulnerable folks feel the brunt of suffering and repeated neglect from their communities and their government. It happens when individuals, communities, and a nation fails to see Black people as equally precious.
The solution never boils down to just doing the right things as an individual. Systemic change happens when we work together, and we work more broadly to make larger shifts happen. We go about disrupting, then dismantling, and then remedying the most common ways local and national laws and policies harm the vulnerable. For starters, we work on the issues related to inequalities in health care, employment, housing, voting, and education. We fix prison, law enforcement, judicial system, and weapons policies. And we get things right with civil rights to guarantee equal protection under the law.
Please, let us remember to notice and interact differently in the conversations with our friends, co-workers, and family members when suffering is ignored or minimized. Look for ways to make practical changes that correct discrepancies or improve the lives of people more vulnerable than yourself. It takes the kind of fortitude that draws strength from our Higher Power and the stalwart forebearers who’ve led the way.
As I close out this piece, I want to offer some spiritual refreshment so that you may find renewal and continue to unravel all that is unjust in you and near you. There is a classic song some of you may know called The Storm is Passing Over. In this snappy rendition recorded in 1957, Marie Knight is joined by the Sam Price Trio. As you listen, let the music move you. Let the words take you to a place of encouragement so it can bless your soul and lift your spirits.
Your life is indeed precious.
By Lisa Colón DeLay