(We are proud to present out first-ever guest post, authored by longtime Clearing out the Clutter friend Marlon Verasamy.)
I remember when I first saw the video of George Floyd being murdered, I remember feeling enraged and sad. I also remember feeling something, or rather not feeling something...I remember feeling an emptiness inside. Now, I’m not saying like an empty, serial killer Dexter, type of emptiness. No, I felt an emptiness that I felt when I saw Ahmaud Arbery die, Eric Gardner die, Philando Castile die, Tamir Rice die, John Crawford III die and countless others. That emptiness, that came because I had already seen this story play out. Soon would come public outcry, then protesting, then the talking heads debating, then stream of people saying the same things, “well, if he had done (this), then he’d still be alive,” or “if he hadn’t done (that), then he’d still be alive.” Things like, “well, he did something wrong, 5 years ago, so clearly he wasn’t a good person.” Black Lives Matter is met with All Lives Matter, and Blue Lives Matter and nothing significant changes and we begin the cycle again when another unarmed black man is murdered by the police.
It’s been nearly 2 months since George Floyd’s murder though, and I have seen something that has disrupted the normal cycle that many of us have just come to accept. Beyond the protests, the counter-protests, the Black Lives vs All Lives confrontations, we’re actually seeing some change. Large swaths of people of every color are speaking out and demanding change. Local governments are beginning to push for actual change. People who normally would agree with me privately about racism today, but feel awkward speaking out in public are doing just that. Calling out those that refuse to see racist acts and trying to hold them to task.
We are actually beginning to see a shift in thinking in the country. But as with any shift, the opposition grows louder. More and more stories of people “defending the country/police” angrily screaming at protestors, getting violent, saying unbelievably racist things, all while also claiming they themselves are not racist. Even with the monumental change we are seeing, the cycle is still trying to keep things status quo.
Everything that has happened has left me thinking quite a bit recently, but more so than anything else, back to my dad. This was a man who could light up a room and make friends with anyone he met. A man that was upbeat and cheerful 99% of the time, but would occasionally share with me some of the darker things he grew up dealing with during that 1%. A man who had dealt with blatant racism while in the Army in the 60s and while being a bus/streetcar driver for the city of Boston through the 70s and 80s. A man, who like so many other black fathers, had to prepare me for the world in a way that my white friends did not need to be prepared:
“No matter how successful you become, there’s always someone who will never look at you anymore than a black man and a threat.”
“You will always run into people who will expect the worst from you just because you're black.”
“When you deal with the police, always be extra respectful, mind what you say and how you act. Don’t give them any reason to do something to you. You want to get home alive.”
“Your white friends won’t get what you’ll go through. They can’t understand.”
It’s been nearly a decade since he passed, over 30 years since he gave me “the talk”, yet these words and so many more have floated through my mind over the years, but more so over the last two months. I’ve thought back to the run-ins I’ve had with the police over the years, getting stopped for the first time and harassed at 15 on my way home from my part time job. Called the “N’ while in uniform while on active duty. Many others, some good, more, not so good. Through them all, my dad’s words rung in my head “You Want to Get Home Alive”. Because I’ve seen the alternative. Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Gardner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, the countless others. I know that I could have easily been in their position.
Until recently, these are things I never talked about. Not with my friends, not with my wife, not really anywhere. But as I’ve seen we need to talk, to our friends, our families, neighbors and sometimes to people who may flat out disagree with us. In recent weeks, I’ve told the above stories about my dad, stories about my run-in with the police over the years, the subtle and not so subtle instances of racism I’ve dealt with over my life, in hopes that people would finally be able to understand.
Most of the time, the talks have gone well, while some, not so much. I know that there are still plenty of people who think that since the Civil Rights Act was passed or since we had a black President, the idea that we still have an issue with race in this country is absurd. I know some people, driven deep down by fear (of change, of losing the life they’ve known, etc.) will fight tooth and nail to keep “things as they are." Yet, after talking with some, there has been real understanding:
“I had no idea.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“I didn’t realize these things were still happening.”
The last couple of months have been emotionally draining, they’ve been frustrating, and there have been moments of hopelessness. Yet, there have been moments of hope. Moments of people coming together. More and more people opening their eyes to racism in America. It is still a long road ahead of us and there is much, much more work to be done. The more we talk to each other, we tell our stories, the more we can open people’s eyes, the more we can bring people together, the more we can remove that unfounded fear in their hearts, and the more, finally, can we get them to understand.
The pace is slow, but the direction is forward. (pic via abcnews.go.com)
Marlon Verasamy is originally from Boston, MA. He is a veteran of the United States Air Force. When not working, Marlon enjoys spending time with his family and rooting for his hometown Celtics and Red Sox.
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