The Price of Human Dignity

Posted on June 2, 2020

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For many years, my uncle ran a butcher shop in one of the all-black neighborhoods of North Philadelphia. On August 28, 1964, a woman came into the shop and asked for the largest, best cut of steak my uncle had. He began to pull it out of the case to show her. She stopped him and asked that he simply put it at the front of the case and she would be back for it later. My uncle did as she requested. The woman did not return by closing time, when my uncle locked up the shop. He returned home and told my aunt, “I think something bad is going to happen in North Philly later tonight.”

The “bad” turned out to be the largest race riots in Philadelphia history, resulting from a series of high-profile allegations of police brutality. The heat and humidity of August, the growing civil rights movement, and a traffic incident between a black woman and the cops, converged to form the perfect storm for violence. In the three days the riots lasted, 341 people were injured, 774 people were arrested, and 225 stores were damaged. My uncle’s butcher shop survived mostly intact, but the prize steak the woman requested to be placed at the front of the case was gone.

I‘m not sure what we have learned in the 56 years that have passed by since then. Certainly, there have been numerous studies about injustice and its consequences. There have been numerous theories about why protest turns violent and why such violence is directed most often at the very communities that have been victims of the injustice.

As the research continues and, as the theories continue, the injustice keeps equal pace. The police institute various measures to lesson the chances of police brutality with cameras and workshops and public awareness. While this goes on, innocent black people continue to die at the hands of a law enforcement community that is either unwilling or unable to control their ranks or the culture from which it derives.

The racial upheaval we see now is exacerbated by a president who responds only to threats to himself. Peaceful protestors are background noise to him. He sees no threat to himself and so doesn’t understand what the fuss is about. His attention is turned elsewhere. Violent protestors cross the line for him because they pose a threat to him, personally. His image is at stake. His re-election is at stake. His manlihood is called into question. He takes action. He becomes the man who uses a gun to kill a fly.

Those of us who are not black, who have not experienced the daily trials of what it means to be something-less-than in this country, may still feel fear, heartbreak, anger, helplessness, fury, and confusion over what is happening now. We want to help. We want to erase the hundreds of years of slavery that resulted in a population of people who may be free according the law but who will always be considered something-less-than by many people whose histories include no such years of slavery.

We need to do something, to somehow break through the overwhelming feeling of helplessness. The good news is that there is something you can do. There is a lot you can do, in fact. It doesn’t involve marching or protesting or putting yourself at physical risk. It does involve educating yourself and taking a stand. There are many websites that give you advice about what you can do. Here are just a few resources:

There is a complete list of various educational resources for white people on anti-racism. bit.ly/antiracismresources

Visit Popular Democracy. Read “Freedom to Thrive.” Then look at the list of all the organizations that are working toward making a difference. Support them financially.

Read the article in the HuffPost, “Amy Cooper Knew Exactly What She Was Doing.” Cooper was the woman who called the police to report suspicious activity of a black man (He was bird watching). The article will remind you that most racist acts are not overt, committed by scary Neo-Nazi types with guns and tattoos. They are polite, socially-acceptable acts disguised as something else. And they are committed by us, every single day.

Read thefeministwire “Alternatives to the Present System of Capitalist Injustice.” At the very least, it may give you some things to think about.

And reach down into your pockets to support any number of really good, solid groups who are working to change the system, to defend the defenseless, and to honor those who have been murdered by the police.

Black Lives Matter

George Floyd Memorial Fund Go Fund Me page

Campaign Zero

The NAACP’s Legal Defence and Educational Fund

ACLU

The list goes on and on. If you take a minute to search, you can find all kinds of groups and organizations.

Write to or call your senator, your Congressperson, your governor, your county board. Be relentless. Incredibly enough, most of these people listen.

If you are a parent or a grandparent, know that there are many outstanding books for children of all ages to help them to become aware of racism, equality, and how to take a stand for others in their own young lives. Reasearch has shown that before white children even enter school, they already show preferences for white people over others. Visit Teaching for Change to learn more.

A wise young woman named Jackie who is also the daughter of a close friend, is a social work major at Seattle University. She has provided many of the resources I have used in this post. I will end with her own very powerful words:

“Before you act: pause. Question your impulse to act and the implications of this impulse on the communities you are acting with/on behalf of. Get uncomfortable. Do your homework. Diversify your news and info sources and share them with your community. Get into relationship with yourself, your privelege, and your communities. Listen to marginalized voices, but do not put the burden on people of color to educate you.”

The important thing, here, is to take action. Constructive, powerful action. We are as safe and as respected only as well as all others are safe and respected.

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