Opinion: I Hope We Can Move to Action. I Hope I Can Move to Action.
Note: The following essay was crafted by Michael Kavulic, Ph.D., director of research strategic initiatives in Kent State University’s Division of Research and Sponsored Programs.
I wonder if I responded well enough when my almost 5-year-old daughter asked me if anyone was going to kill her best friend, a young black girl she met at school? I wonder if I should have attended the peaceful demonstration that I drove by on the way home from the grocery store? I wonder if I should have spoken up louder when an organization I am part of offered what I thought was a woefully lacking response “in support of” the anti-racist movement? I wonder why I have not raised more concern when I have seen talented co-workers of color overlooked in hiring and promotion processes or when their professional development needs have been ignored forcing some to leave the institution or remain and struggle for recognition? I wonder if the choices I am making about the next educational steps for my daughter are perpetuating systems of oppression and racism? I wonder about all the times I have overlooked when my identities of power and privilege have operated to my advantage; though this is not a new line of thought, it stands out now in relief against the reverberation of complicity.
I wonder, how do I decide how to act in recognition of that disturbing dynamic?
Since the killing of George Floyd, I have wondered a lot, knowing it is not nearly enough to wonder. I have not watched any of the video of his murder. (I wonder why I have so actively avoided that and if that avoidance tactic is my privilege?)
I believe that my wondering is driven by my lack of comfort, not knowing what the right, next or best actions are for me. Admittedly, I have wrestled with what I can or should do.
Since the killing of George Floyd, I have had conversations every day with family, friends or co-workers about topics of injustice, inequity, violence, fear, sadness, pain, hope, promise, action and faith in relation to the painful realities of our racially charged nation. Sometimes we have just tried to work through confusion. Sometimes we have argued. Sometimes we have worked through recommendations. Sometimes our conversations are punctuated with long, awkward and languishing pauses.
As I reflect on all that talking, I am struck by how divergent and distinct the perspectives are of people who all, in my opinion, honestly want to work to improve the lives of people of color. In the course of those conversations, I try to stay mindful that my privilege makes my stakes in the movement against anti-Black racism far less immediate than those of my colleagues, friends and family of color who are likely to actively and persistently experience the pressing force of oppression.
As I look to what comes next, I do not want to lose sight of the tragic taking of Black lives that mark my memory, our shared history, and that shape the world. I do not want to lose sight of the intersections of identities coming together in these moments. I do not want to lose sight of the multitude of voices in these conversations and arguments, overlooking the range of motivations and isolating myself in a deceivingly dangerous echo chamber. I cannot underestimate the oppressive systems that interrupt the trajectory of so many for so many different reasons.
I hope we can move to action. I hope I can move to action.
For now, I will continue to listen and to stay as vigilant as I can. My soul aches, my tears run and my anger teeters on the edge of boiling over. Yet, I must situate my pain and anguish in the context of struggles I will likely never personally know. I cannot look ignorantly away from the wounds in the lives of my brothers and sisters as I did with the video, allowing my privilege to drown out their truth. I will strive to be bold in the face of easy decisions and to shoulder my part – not forcing the full weight of the burden on those who already live under its weight. Still the path, and my path, is not clear to me, and I worry about what comes next.
So then, again, onto the work that calls to me – the work that is calling to us all.