It’s hard to avoid politics these days and, while this blog is supposed to be flying-related, what happened in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Memorial Day of this year, is more important than the focus of my blog.
The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, and the reactions and protests over it, may become the most important events in the history of race relations in this country. It is a horror that a man has lost his life, but the method of his death has sparked a movement that may result in true equality for people of color. And I’m encouraged by the fact that enormous numbers of white people have participated in the protests.
These events recall the sometimes violent reaction that occurred in 1968 after the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr – the obvious difference, of course, is the lack of violence occurring in today’s social justice movement. Let me tell you a story.
I was approaching the second trimester or my sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh. My major, at the time, was psychology, but I had learned that psychology was not something I was good at. While I had enjoyed the intro course, then social psych and personality and adjustment, for some reason the University believed that statistics was crucial for a discipline that is based on science. My catholic primary and secondary schooling had been wonderful teaching me about the god of the catholics, parsing a sentence, a dead language, and the basics of math, English, geography, etc, but it hadn’t been great on science – or, perhaps, I came to learn that science required far too much of a type of discipline which was not a strong suit of mine. The major that I was better able to focus on was/were fraternity parties and sorority girls. I minored in pinochle and beer.
I was dating a pretty girl at the time and it was a pretty day – an oddity in Pittsburgh. There was an azure blue sky, scattered clouds, and it was sunny and warm. We decided to go for a walk on what I believe was Sunday, April 7, 1968, maybe in the early afternoon. We chose Schenley Park for the walk, a little east/northeast of the University. We crossed Schenley Bridge over Panther Hollow and slowly climbed the mostly grass-covered hill. We were young and in love and it was a perfectly beautiful day to be young and in love, even in Pittsburgh. We paused somewhere up the hill in the shade of a maple. As we sat down in the grass, we looked back over the campus, towards the city. We saw some smoke coming from Herron Hill, the city’s original black neighborhood. There was a lot of smoke, coming from a lot of fires. The residents were angry, and their anger employed Molotov cocktails. We decided to leave the park on that beautiful day, and returned to the dorms, where it was fairly safe.
I didn’t do much at the time. I’m sure that we all had discussions about the events, the tragedy of Dr King’s murder, and the pent-up anger that turned to violence. But all I did was talk, and I probably didn’t do a lot of that. I was two months short of my 20th birthday, I was in love, I had survived hell week and became a frat brother, and nothing else much mattered.
Here we are now, fifty-two years later. Some things have changed. I’m old now. In January and February of this year, I started reading about the novel coronavirus, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention. When Governor Gavin Newsome shut down the state of California in mid-March, I started paying a lot of attention. After a chat with my buddy, Turner, I realized that sitting an inch or two away from a student pilot, in a flying club airplane – that might have been flown by six or eight different humans the previous day – was probably a bad idea. Did I mention that I’m old? And I’ve got coronary artery disease, making me prime COVID-19 meat. I haven’t instructed since the ides of March.
And then we get to Memorial Day. And some Minneapolis cop kneels on a black man’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, and the black man, George Floyd, dies. And suddenly the entire nation takes notice. I guess watching a man being murdered over eight minutes and forty-six seconds made an impression on America. I couldn’t watch, myself, and I certainly couldn’t figure out what I might do about it.
But the ensuing protests over George Floyd’s murder didn’t turn violent, as the protests over Dr King’s murder did, fifty-two years ago. And there were all kinds of people joining in the protests across the country – a lot of them were white, and they were welcomed by the protestors. A dialogue began in this country about social justice – or the social injustice shown people of color throughout this nation’s history. It made a lot of people think. I’m one of them.
The protests continue, and so does the dialogue. What can we now do?
Well, for one, I’ve been so bizzy doing nothing that I’ve got to learn what I can do now. One simple thing I did was to sit in front of my computer and find the website Black Lives Matter: https://blacklivesmatter.com/ or #BlackLivesMatter. Therein I learned about what I can do. You might do it yourself.
Sign up and join their global movement. Sign a petition. Read about what’s happening in their community. If you’ve got money, you can donate some of it – we white people are good at that. Or, if you want some merch, you can buy a t-shirt, a hat, a coffee mug, or a face mask that you can WEAR to prevent other people from catching COVID-19 from you.
You can learn that Black Lives Matter was founded on July 13, 2013, after the acquittal of the guy who murdered Trayvon Martin in Florida. Its co-founders are Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. Wanna learn something about what white supremacy has done to the black population of this country? This is a great place to begin.
What else can I do? Well, last week I stumbled across a reference to something called “The 1619 Project”, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html .
Last year, the New York Times Magazine started, “… an ongoing initiative … that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
Within the contents of the 1619 Project you will find essays, poems, articles, histories, audio, video, photo essays, and fiction about slavery, and how this country and its white population profited from it. The woman whose idea became the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, won the 2020 Pulitzer prize for the essay that opens the initiative.
There have been complaints from historians who have argued that parts of some of the articles and essays are historically inaccurate. The right wing whacko morons – irrelevant Trumpkin Newt Gingrich, Senator Tom Cotton, the delusional and racist Senator from the trumpland state of Arkansas … who said that “slavery was a necessary evil” for the foundation of this country … and other assorted fascist assholes have decried the project. They, of course, will find themselves looking for work when the country comes to its senses and tosses that knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, racist, misogynistic, philandering, felonious, fat-assed, little-handed, orange-colored Buffoon – and his sycophantic minions – out on the street on November 3rd.
I don’t know what will happen with all this going on. It may be that the pendulum finally swings in favor of people of color, that all of us will try to behave more civilly to each other, and strive to eradicate racial hate from our souls. But all of us, no matter our ethnicity, religious preferences, or color need to start paying attention.
Black lives matter. Our success as a nation depends on it.