Today’s world is a place that is unfortunately divided. Deeply divided. We see people throw down gauntlets between each other over race, political views, nationality, economics, religion, just so many things. Little things sometimes that don’t matter in the bigger scheme, and sometimes very big things that really do matter.
In the last week, we have seen a huge upheaval all across the United States because of brutality and deeply embedded racism. It is not just about the loss of one life or one injustice, it is a pattern that we see repeated again and again.
We do not condone looting, property damage, or riots. We do condone speaking out to condemn violence and oppression.
I cannot comprehend that in the 21st Century that inequality and discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, or political views are not things of the history books. This is the first time since the murder of MLK that America has felt the full weight of racial injustice in the streets. Not because it wasn’t there, but because it was burning under the surface. Now it is burning in the streets.
I cannot fully understand, but I will not be silent
Black lives matter.
I cannot fully understand what it means to be black in America. There are parts of this story that are much too complex and layered in history for me to understand. I cannot think of what it must be like to have your family sold into slavery and sent across an ocean, to fight for your right to exist. That fight is not over. Racial injustice is everywhere and it is right now. There are experiences that I will never have but that people of color have every day. The fear and injustice, knowing that you are targeted for something that you cannot change. You are targeted with brutal violence, and also in a million other ways.
The idea of privilege is not new. People can have economic privilege or class privilege. It is something that we talk about in fencing, because our sport is one that is much more accessible to people who are economically privileged. Economic privilege can be changed, we can create programs or help people. You can escape economic conditions. We recognize that racial privilege is not the same. You cannot escape it.
As immigrants, we came to the United States to build a better life. Many of my family members were murdered in the Holocaust. My uncle was killed in action in the first days of the war. My grandfather was killed in the war and my father grew up fatherless, never knowing his dad as he died when my father was a toddler. While I cannot comprehend the black experience in America, I can very much feel the weight of brutality and injustice on families and across generations. We are different, but we are together.
It is our position, as a family and as a fencing community, that we are allies in the fight for racial equality.
Say their names. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Sean Reed. Tony McDade.
Though we cannot understand, we will not be silent about the injustice that is happening.
Modern society with modern division
There has always been an element of this division between us, but somehow it seems that now things are reaching a fever pitch. Perhaps it’s because of the rise of social media, which both brings us together with others, but also reinforces extremism. Perhaps it is not that at all. As actor Will Smith said, “Racism is not getting worse. It’s getting filmed.”
Tragically, so tragically, we are seeing that division boil over into violence now.
It is not enough to say that these things are sad and then to keep on moving. Experiences like what happened last week, or the other constant stream of tragic events, they can make us feel like things are hopeless and we want to give up. That cannot be an option. Life keeps going and everyone is needed here.
This is a lesson that I have learned as a fencer. There can be no giving up, not stepping back from the fight. In a fencing match when the points are way down and things look totally hopeless, we step back and rethink our strategy, then we turn right back to our opponent with a new fire in our hearts.
Here’s the tough part. The opponent is not the person who believes differently than you do. The opponent is the trough of division between you and them. Attack the division, and you’ll heal the wound. We can all heal these wounds if we turn towards the division with camaraderie instead of fear. Do not be afraid to acknowledge when you come from a place of privilege. Do not be afraid to learn and grow. Do not be afraid to listen.
Change has to come from within, and we need major changes. They will be hard changes. Violence, rioting, looting – these are only distractions from the problems of systemic racism. We unequivocally condemn them.
We cannot stay in our own separate little bubbles anymore. It is this separation that has allowed hate and anger to become more and more powerful. Instead of staying in our little cocoon of comfort, we need to find places that we can connect with each other. Most important right now is that we open our ears to listen. It is easy to think that we have the answers. It is much harder to step back and allow people who are oppressed to speak.
Make no mistake – right now is not about black versus white. It is about justice and inclusion versus division and oppression. There is only one side we can be on.