Humanizing & Bridging This Moment

These remarks were originally prepared for the MIT Community Vigil held on on June 2, 2020 in the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Aubery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tony McDade.

I was not originally planning to share about this, but early in June, I was speaking with one of my brothers in the faith, a Black man. He described to me that his six-year-old daughter heard about what happened to George Floyd through a community conversation, and she started asking questions: “What is racism?” “What does it mean?” Then my friend and his wife told their daughter, answering her questions as best they could. And the next day, he asked his daughter, as he did every day, “What was your favorite thing about today?”

And she says, “that you came home safe.”

Let that sink in.

No six-year-old should have to be concerned for the rest of her life about the safety of her daddy because of the color of his skin. So when we talk about injustice, it’s not just the system, it’s not just an incident, it’s not just a video. It’s children. It’s people. It’s a lifetime of trauma and mindset that we, as Black people, have to adapt to.

There is a tendency to distance ourselves from the events going on in the country. We have the ability to frame what we see in the news as “over there,” mostly separate from our personal lives “over here.” However, today that separation is not present for Black people. The things we see in a video are on the continuum of our lived experiences.

Let’s bring this home. As hard as it is to admit, the modern-day lynching of George Floyd is on the continuum of our experiences with inequities in education, representation, and support in the student body and faculty of MIT. As hard as it is to admit, the protests on the streets in more than 140 cities across America and their documented sabotage by incendiary groups is on the continuum of the Black History Month installation in Lobby 7 in 2019 and its desecration with a drawn swastika. In the same way that survivors of assault can be triggered by seeing their perpetrator, as Black people we are triggered and traumatized recalling the ongoing assault–devaluation and death–whenever we see our perpetrator–racism–in all of its many forms.

I share all of this to ask you to see with eyes unafraid to examine this continuum in yourself and the spaces you hold. And I speak with hope, knowing that recognition is the first step in the continual work of restoration.