As I write this blog post, my emotions are full. My family and I moved to new Braunfels about 2 years ago, and to be honest, we weren't sure of what we were getting into. Fresh out of fellowship, I was determined to continue delivering babies as a family medicine doctor and I knew that I would have to live in a suburban/possibly rural area to do that.
My husband reported concerns almost every day before moving that he was worried about what would happen to us and our family because there was such a small black population. Although I am originally from Dallas, I trained in New Jersey for residency and there was almost every type of person you could ever imagine. It was so diverse. Fast forward 2 years, last night I logged into a local mom's group and started reading some of the posting comments regarding what happened to George Floyd. I tried to step out of myself as a black woman who happens to be the mother of a black son and look at it from the perspective of people who are not African-American or black. Most of the messages were that most cops are not bad and that they should not have to pay for the wrongdoing of other cops. I also saw sentiments that they themselves do not see color and also teach their children to just be a good person. I also saw posting comments about rioting and why it was bad/didn't solve anything.
If you do not know, Martin Luther King peaceful quotes are the go-to for peaceful protests during times like these but what few people know is that in the last year of his life, his tune slightly changed. This quote really resonates with me about what is happening today:
“…we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing‐oriented” society to a “person‐oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered…True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice, which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
—“Beyond Vietnam” (April 1967)
As I started doing my own research about the last year of his life, about a year before he was assassinated, he made a comment on CBS on a 60-minute episode with Mike Wallace saying that riots are the voices of not unheard. It really resonated with me because the first protest that I remember participating in was around the Jena 6. 6 black boys in high school were charged with attempted second degree murder for assaulting a white student. What people do not talk about is what was going on before this incident happened. In no way am I condoning violence but I think it is really important to bring up the facts. Students were found hanging nooses around the campus with pictures of African-American students and although the school leadership recommended expulsion, they were overruled by the Board of Education and those students only received 3 days of in school suspension and the young black men involved were overcharged. I truly believe that when it comes to injustice and when there is no repercussion for the wrongdoings that are committed, there is a cockiness that develops of invincibility that is dangerous. I have not brought myself to watch the actual murder video, but the freeze-frame was enough to see the hatred in his eyes. Almost every time I close my eyes, that image pops up in my head and it has kept me up at night thinking about what could happen to someone I love.
When I think about George Floyd, It takes me back to the summer of 2017 when I was in Upstate New York conducting Medicare physicals. I met a wonderful woman and her husband while performing her physical. She stated that she did her family tree and was interested to see if I wanted to find out my family history. To be honest, I was nervous to find out what happened beyond my immediate grandparents because I was not sure if I was prepared to know their causes of death. However, to my disbelief, I found out that both of my great grandfathers were shot and killed by white men. I am worried that history will one day repeat itself.
Fast forward to this morning, I decided to attend the peaceful protest arranged by members of our community. I never would have expected that here in a mostly conservative county would support Black Americans when it came to injustice done by the police. I saw a black man and his son sitting on a bench. I parked my car and before I walked past them, I wondered whether to ask hey how they were doing or if I should just do the obligatory head nod that I was taught to do as a child. I also wondered if I should just walk up to them and say "I just want to let you know that I love you and that I got your back" but then I didn't want him to think I was hitting on him. I ultimately decided to walk up to him and when I looked at the protestors, I was immediately shocked. There were so many families who did not look like me protesting the injustice in the Texas heat in New Braunfels, TX. That made me feel so good. I felt heard. I felt appreciated. I felt like my life and the lives of my family mattered. I am sure there are more eloquent words for how I felt but right now I am still pretty speechless. I said hey anyway and talked about how great it is to know that we have allies here when it's so few of us in town I remember looking at his son and telling him that he was a beautiful baby boy and before I ended my conversation with them, I let both of them know that I love them and that I had their backs.
To all of my friends, associates and non-Black colleagues that Caucasian who are asking what they can do to combat the system of injustice, I have some recommendations.
1. See color and recognize that it is something that matters. The systems of injustice and oppression are counting on you to not see color. Have an uncomfortable moment with yourself and realize that your skin color is not something making your life harder but for black people, that is very well a possibility.
2. I would encourage you to have conversations with your children who are old enough to understand about what injustice looks like and how they should speak up when they are given the opportunity.
3. I would recommend donating to an action PAC for criminal justice reform/racial disparities.
4. I would recommend advocating for change within your preferred political party through policy if you have a voice in that setting.
5. Have uncomfortable conversations with your inner circles about injustice and correct people when they get it wrong
6. I would recommend that you speak up when you see injustice and use your platform and position to dismantle systemic racism. Rome wasn't built overnight but if all of us take action steps, we can get closer.
As I recap the peaceful protest in my town, I feel hope. I feel like I can be the change I wish to see by providing the perspective of an African-American person to a person who does not look like me with facts, respect, and kindness. I know that these conversations will need to continue to happen but I am glad that I did not have to initiate it and that someone in my town saw fit to do something.
I look forward to speaking about this more during my next podcast on June 6 at 10 AM on Facebook Live.
Dr. Jessica Edwards