As June 2020 begins, I find myself dreaming of November and cooler weather, holidays and family time, hopefully calmer heads, and clearer perspectives on many of the bizarre happenings of this year.
The first five months of this year have brought racial discrimination and unrest on a scale that we’ve not seen in a while; a global pandemic, which brought a screeching halt to life as we know it; and the death of my mother-in-law. Politically, we started the year with a Presidential impeachment, and we will close the year with a Presidential election.
As a white middle-aged woman who was brought up in a financially comfortable home in the South in the 1970s, I saw two sides of a coin: my own white-privilege (although I didn’t know to call it that then), and the racial divide so prevalent in the South. As an American of European and Native American descent, I cannot fully understand the inherent and incipient hatred and discrimination suffered by those Americans of African descent. While it is easy for those of us with lighter skin (and therefore white privilege) to think, “we are centuries away from when white people enslaved the Africans they brought over……we’re all Americans now”, we don’t understand the discrimination that has trickled down because of that enslavement. The other day I saw an animated video explaining systemic racism (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrHIQIO_bdQ). It was highly educational and convicting and humbling. There needs to be a shift-change in this country, but it won’t be instantaneous. Many more people of color will suffer as we make the necessary changes. And, ALL of us, of all skin tones, need to make changes. We have to change policies, both written and unwritten, to allow people of color the same opportunities that whites have. An example of this is to not exclude a candidate for a job based on his/her “black/Asian/Hispanic/Jewish sounding name”. If they are the best candidate, hire them. Period. The same goes for loan and scholarship applications. I know many Americans of Irish descent who name their son Sean or Liam, or their daughter Erin or Aisling; I know of Americans with Scandinavian heritage who name their son Sven or Johannes. Therefore, people of Mexican descent should be able to name their son Jose or Juan or Pablo with no repercussions. All of these folks are simply honoring their ancestors and heritage (when you meet them, ask them how to pronounce their name, and then honor and respect that). It is a nod to the past, while looking toward the future. And the future needs to take that history and improve upon it with some changes. Will the necessary changes be smooth? No. Will those of us who are white make mistakes? You better believe it. Am I without fault now, or earlier in my life? NO WAY. Do I need to personally do better? You better believe it. In my family, I have one health care professional, and another in training to become one. I also have many friends who are health care professionals. Something I have learned from them is that while there are trends among people groups (sickle cell anemia among people of African descent, breast cancer among people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, for example), underneath our skin, our bodies look the same. The blood runs red in all of our veins. The outward differences we see are cultural differences, that have nothing to do with our skin color. The only difference in our skin is that those that originated on the African continent needed more melanin in the skin to withstand the intense sunlight, and those that originated in the far north of Europe, Asia, and North America needed less melanin because of the less intense sunlight. Everyone in between those extremes has a variation of skin color. THAT’S IT, folks. As a Christian, I believe that God created us all, equally. The design of skin color based on where you originated is no accident, but a beautiful plan of God using what we recognize today as “science”. He makes no mistakes, and He makes no person more special or important than the other, therefore there can be no place for racism in our country, in our homes, in our brains. Every person ever born is important to God. It will take all of us making an effort to change the racism and discrimination going on in our country and around the world. Some will be required to make a larger effort than others. But all of us must at least ponder this and make changes in our heart. We must ALL listen to each other’s perspective, and try, even on a small scale, to understand where they’re coming from. As a first step on a personal level, let me apologize to any and all that I might have overtly and inadvertently offended in the past. I will not offer an excuse of upbringing or heritage, but plead ignorance and misunderstanding that come from my not educating myself. And, you have my promise to do better, to be more aware and thoughtful in the future.
All of this unrest is going on amidst a global pandemic. The vast majority of us alive today have never seen anything like this either. Scientists are scrambling to get an understanding of what is going on with the disease itself, how we can mitigate the spread, and to find a cure or preventive vaccine. Healthcare professionals are working overtime and risking their own health to care for the ones stricken by the virus. Business owners and politicians are scrambling to keep their businesses and economies afloat as people isolate to slow the spread. On top of all of that, this global pandemic is exacerbating the racial unrest. Because of the systemic racism in this country, many people of color don’t have nice homes to isolate in, and can’t miss months of work without risk of eviction. My husband has a job that has not been affected (except to maybe get busier), and we have a nice home and outside space to isolate in. It’s easy for us to get comfortable despite the worries of the pandemic. I know that we are in the minority in our comfort and ease. The scientist in me wants us all to hunker down until we find a vaccine. But, I realize that we must keep our economy flowing, and that requires that some people must go out and expose themselves to potential carriers of the virus. Again, we must all do our part, no matter how big or small, to keep the economy going, and to keep the virus slowed down while the scientists do their part. We must also all be understanding of the parts others are playing. Right now, my part is to stay out of the way of those that have to be out there. I shouldn’t needlessly expose myself to the virus so that I don’t overload the healthcare system. Those that must be out in order to keep the economy flowing, should do so with precautions. Wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your distance.
Those precautions, especially keeping our distance, have made the mourning of my mother-in-law difficult. We kept her funeral to a small, family-only gathering at the graveside. We try to not gather at my father-in-law’s home in large groups so as to not expose one another to anything we might be carrying. We worry about exposing him to something at his advanced age of 87. But all of these precautions cannot diminish our grief or our memories of a full life lived by mother-in-law. Her later years were marred by Alzheimers, but she loved fully and fiercely everyone that came into her world. She loved her family, and wanted them with her as often as possible. She loved to feed anyone who came into her home. She loved to laugh, and to sing. She enjoyed traveling and seeing new places, and if she couldn’t go, she loved hearing your stories and seeing your photos of your travels. She wanted her children and grandchildren to be happy, successful, and loved. She loved her husband for over 70 years, and wanted nothing more than to be with him always. She prayed daily for those of us fortunate enough to be in her circle. She often told me and the wife of her older son that she had prayed for us even before she met us, and told us both that we were an answer to prayer. She read her Bible daily, and missed going to church when it became too difficult. I am so thankful for a myriad of photos and memories I have of DeLois Mantooth. I miss her already, and will for the rest of my life.
I hope and pray that we have reached the depth of the pit of 2020, and have begun the slow, painful crawl up the other side to better days. I’m not holding my breath, but am hoping. Either way, it will be a year and a time that will never be forgotten. I believe it is a tipping point and touchstone year that we will look back on. Many things now are referred to as “pre- or post-9/11”. I believe that things in the future will be referred to as “pre- or post-2020”. We need to reflect on all of these things, and try to see the larger picture as we go to the voting booth this fall. We ALL need to vote, and to have our voices heard as we try to move past 2020, and to apply the many lessons learned during these bizarre days.