The other day I had a conversation with my daughter about taking action in life. How it’s better to be proactive and not reactive. During that conversation we also discussed the times you feel so overwhelmed that it paralyzes you. You can’t figure out what the next move should be so you don’t move at all. You do nothing and hope for the best.
As I talked to her, I thought about how it feels to be Black in America and the issues that affect us. So often we’re reactive instead of proactive. So often we’re paralyzed to inactivity because we’re so overwhelmed by this gap or that disparity that we don’t know where to begin. I’m speaking collectively and individually.
As Black people we know the problems that affect our community. What we don’t always know is how to solve them. Many times the solution isn’t in our control, leaving us feeling helpless and ready to give up. Or, if we do have the solution, there are obstacles in our way. And let’s be honest, sometimes we’re the problem. Again, I’m speaking collectively and individually.
I often equate it to a house that is on fire, and your spouse, children, parents, grandparents, etc. are inside. Who do you save first? It’s impossible to save everyone at the same time, so you have to make a choice. Do you choose your spouse over your children? Your children over your parents? Your parents over your grandparents? Every choice means someone is harmed, leaving you hurt, confused and paralyzed. However, inaction has a cost too. No one is saved — not even you.
I think this happens in our community often. The myriad issues plaguing our community leave us in a cycle of paralysis. Since we don’t know where to start, we do nothing and hope for the best.
While I want to see racism disappear in this country, I’ve decided to focus on systemic rather than individual racism. I think as Black people we often give so much attention to the white person spewing racist rhetoric because it’s easier to deal with one person than an entire system. Arguing with a racist (or someone who thinks he’s not racist, but clearly is) is the low-hanging fruit that makes us feel as though we’re fighting racism. This is reactive and it does nothing but get our blood pressure up — and that’s what we don’t need! However, that one person is operating within a system that says it’s OK to treat Black Americans a certain way.
I decided I will educate but I won’t argue with a willfully obtuse person. It’s a waste of my time and energy. Plus, most of the time willfully obtuse people keep repeating the same tired statements that have been disproven, so that tells me this person is stuck on stupid and not worthy of discourse.
So now that stupid people are no longer getting my attention, how does one tackle systemic racism? It’s so huge that once again it leads back to paralysis.
I think the city-county council helped answer that question when they unanimously voted for Proposal 182, a special resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in Marion County.
The more you examine systemic racism, the more you realize it is a public health crisis because it’s the root of all evil. It’s the well from which all gaps — wealth, education, homeownership — and disparities — health, mortality, criminal justice — spring. All of these efforts to quash this gap or reverse this disparity must look at the role racism plays in every aspect of life for descendants of slaves in America.
These gaps and disparities are by design. Racism (whether implicit or explicit) — against the descendants of formerly enslaved people — is built into the fabric of American society.
Yes, it’s still a huge undertaking, but I think knowing where to focus helps stop the paralysis. For those who’ve moved past paralysis, it may stop the hamster-on-the-wheel feeling — which isn’t much better than paralysis. It also leaves room for collaboration between organizations and institutions to understand how one area affects so many others. For instance, if you live in an area that was once redlined, you may have health issues from environmental pollution, live in substandard housing in a food desert, work in a low-wage job and lack transportation.
It all started with racism.