I grew up naively (and privileged) to think that racism only still existed in the South. Living in Wisconsin, a state developed after the end of the Civil War, and in the "North," that these sentiments weren't part of our culture. People in Wisconsin are nice. Like really nice. They open doors for you, help shovel and push your car out when it's stuck in snow, nice. In school, there was little diversity. But I was also one of two redhead kids that I wasn't related to, and quite honestly, it didn't occur to me that the kids of color, that their experience was different than the regular struggles of every other teenager in our area. And I was nice to them, as I was mostly nice to everyone, because Wisconsin.
I also remember in high school and college hearing about women in the Middle East who’s dismayed or rejected suitors, or husbands threw acid on their faces. Deforming them for life. I thought, how can an area that has had people living in it for so long still be so backwards and cruel. This is where Jesus grew up. I viewed this behavior, this sentiment, as being separate from us in the states. People may do that there, but they don’t do that here. And certainly not in Wisconsin. Today, I learned of another story. A story that happened right now. Actually yesterday. In a place I am all too familiar with. The corner of State Street and Gorham in Madison. The heart of the campus of my alma matter. Where for 10 continuous years, members of my family and I walked through.
a (black) woman
standing on the corner, waiting to cross the street, listening to music
had lighter fluid thrown on her neck and face
and set on fire.
She was freaking set on fire.
I’m sobbing writing this.
SHE WAS SET ON FIRE!
By “regular looking college boys.”
This happened right here. Not in Virginia. Not in Texas. Not the elusive places of the “deep south” that I thought racism still was.
George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis.
Althea Bernstein was set on fire in Madison, Wisconsin.
As my friend pointed out, “These are our NEIGHBORS. Our neighbors are being lit on fire.”
I understand that this awakening is exactly what is coming to light right now. I understand that I am immensely privileged to have this awakening at this time instead of when I was 5years old like Laylah Peatersen. I didn’t know the immense societal impacts the subtle things the rural folks that I encountered had on society. I thought THEY were the minority! I thought their undertones of hatred, distain, fear, pro confederate flag, gunwielding obsession was the minority! And I didn’t understand the power they had. The power they had on community budgets. Had on voting areas. Had on opportunities.
Did you know that the GI Bill that helped so many soldiers returning from WWII better their lives, lift them out of immigrant poverty into the Middle class and created the suburbs that got them out of the inner city and afforded them and their children and future generations with greater opportunities in life – WASN’T offered for black soldiers?! I just found that out! Somehow that exclusivity was left out of my education. What’s NOT systemic about this?!
The more I’m learning these days, the more my eyes open through the many tears I’ve shed, the more I understand what I need to vote for, what I need to email and petition for to help not just for EQUAL OPPORTUNITY for everyone, but to equalize the opportunity of the suffering, and hopefully, soften the hearts of those who wish them ill.
This needs to change. I don’t care if you think all lives matter or blue lives matter. Black Lives need your help right now, because we didn’t help them when we helped each other. We didn’t fix this yet. Each and every one of us needs to do better. Did you know that Australia has a Sorry Day? A national holiday dedicated to apologize to their native people for the immense suffering they put them through?! And I just learned about Juneteenth during the Obama administration, and it’s NOT even a national holiday. Can you imagine waiting an additional TWO YEARS to find out you were “free”?! When many of you couldn’t even wait two freaking months to get a haircut. T W O Y E A R S to learn you had already been F R E E . How many enslaved people died during that time? How many were unjustly tortured during that time? It then took almost another ONE HUNDRED YEARS to be allowed to VOTE FOR THEIR RIGHTS! What?! And that was only 40 years ago! I get that I’m late to the party. That these are facts. And these are sentiments. But Althea Bernstein was SET ON FIRE Y E S T E R D A Y. Clearly there’s a lot more work to be done.
And if you think that you should have the right to wear a mask or not during a global pandemic, you better damn well be voting in support of women making safe decisions about their bodies and medical choices.