By Daren Berringer
Some time has now passed since the murder of George Floyd, the protests, the ramped up emotions and news coverage. It’s cyclical, even in this period where it unfortunately tends to dissipate. We typically move on to the next big thing facing our lives. But not now. So I waited to present this for good reason.
The only words I have for Black America in this piece is that I love you. I see you. I hear you and am here for you. Any time you want you want to tell me your story, I will listen. Because you have had enough words directed at you. This piece is not about you when it comes to racism, injustice and inequality. You already know.
This is directed at you, white America.
Alexis De Tocqueville, when covering the topic of race in Democracy in America wrote that “[M]emories of slavery disgrace the race, and race perpetuates memories of slavery.”
Now De Tocqueville would go on to articulate an irremediable outlook on race, but let’s use his quote as our jumping off point for considering the perspective of Black America.
I grew up in a fairly rural Pennsylvania town. So you may not think there would be much in the way of racial interaction to draw upon. But in that town there were daily reminders of how race was defined both in terms of social and economic discrimination, but even defined by clear tangible lines of residence. There was the Borough of Indiana.
And then, there was Chevy Chase.
Chevy Chase is a neighborhood that still exists to this day that is sectioned off behind our high school. In fact if you look at some old maps, Chevy Chase appears to be listed as its own, separate town. But there is no Mayor or Council; yet it has a name resembling the affluence of suburban Washington D.C. This is the historic “Black neighborhood.”
And prior to the 1970’s, I’ve been told, there was Mack Pool. But it was a different Mack Pool than the one I enjoyed as a teenager. A membership was required to be able to enter and just go swimming back then. Guess who was never conveniently permitted to buy one of those memberships?
By the time I was a kid, my parents never made a big deal of which kids I played or hung out with. I never thought of not playing with Black kids. And their families were always welcoming of me.
I always enjoyed bonding in those relationships. At the time I thought nothing of it. But I cherish that experience. The family functions. The weddings. The teamwork through athletics. And just the conversations and hearing a different lens. I learned so much. I am very fortunate for those moments. I am better for it.
We now fast forward to modern day. I can’t tell you how many conference calls and video calls I have been on with candidates and staff alike from across the country, where emotions are running so high now that tears are flowing and envelope the agenda. The calls turn from the normal programmatic operations of a campaign to just being present for one another.
I also look to my four-and-a-half-year old daughter who, while in her appearance is white, is multi-racial and well aware.
One morning she walked into the living room and the news was on. I should have been quicker about switching the channel, but I wasn’t. The first thing she heard was that a police officer was being charged for the murder of George Floyd while his image dominated the screen.
There, before her, was a Black man and the use of the word “killing” was heard by her.
“Killing!” she said to me. Any parent knows, there is no walking that back.
For now, that level of father/daughter conversation will be placed on hold. It’s a conversation that will no doubt happen. I won’t hide anything from her. But I will let her be a kid first. And when that time comes, I will draw upon the wisdom of others that I have been privileged to witness. I have always loved to hear the stories of others and ask them questions.
And there will come a day when she asks me about what I did while all this unrest was swirling through our communities and I wasn’t going to tell her I stood on the sidelines.
For the past five years, if you have come into my home, you have noticed a simple list of five charges for starting a movement. I wrote them out of inspiration and observation of unrest from an election I was working on in the British Virgin Islands. The list was taped to a cupboard or on a refrigerator, not just as a daily reminder to me and my family, but for visitors as well.
While my daughter, Atlee, can’t read that list yet, she sees it and has placed her own magnets on it. This was now about “showing up” and those are my own words on that list. For that and other reasons I didn’t feel it would be enough to just go on social media or submit something to a news outlet. I had to do more. For her.
So when the protest marches in and around Pittsburgh first began, I went. I arrived with ears, mind and heart open. I learned. I built relationships with the organizers, the overwhelming majority of which are these strong, young, thoughtful women of color.
I am in such awe of their courage and command. Those women ignited the strength for others to follow in having their own protest marches in communities that have never before seen such demonstration. They were being heard and the ripple was uplifting.
I look forward to telling Atlee all about them. I hope it inspires her. Because she knows the picture of her grandfather. And it won’t be hard for her to draw the similarities of what he looked like and the images of George Floyd that she saw on CNN.
But I want her to know that she has everything she already needs to stand up and be just as unafraid and courageous as those leading the charge now.
That civic engagement will take us to a place where the need for change transitions into the rearview mirror of having changed, so that the chants of “no justice, no peace,” turn into “Know Justice, Know Peace,” and it’s realized by everyone.
Proverbs tells us to “let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.”
And so these are my words to white America: Listen and allow those stories to serve as truth for how we establish the core tenets of equal justice and an equal voice for all in our nation.