I dare you to read this column

My heart is heavy as I write this.

What a cliché, but I guess I just don’t really have the words to describe the depth of the sadness I feel.

I’ve always prided myself on my ability with words, so feeling as though words are completely inadequate is tough. But, when I find myself in times of trouble, I’m doing what I’ve always done. I write.

Bits and pieces of this column have been floating around in my head for days, if not weeks, though I wasn’t quite sure where they were taking me. It took another couple logs being added to the fire known as 2020 to pull them together.

Regular readers of my column will perhaps recognize some familiar themes. For some, I may find myself preaching to the choir, so to speak. Unfortunately, most of my comments are directed toward those least likely to read them.

A Facebook friend regularly asks random getting-to-know-you questions on her feed. One recent question asked, “What really makes you angry?” (albeit not in those exact words). My answer is simple: Willful ignorance, hypocrisy and closed-mindedness.

Throughout the current pandemic, I have regularly been saddened by the entire situation — the lives lost, the livelihoods battered and broken, the rise in depression, the increase in domestic violence, the loss of ceremonial milestones and the list goes on. I am deeply saddened by the fact that none of it had to play out as it did and could have been avoided if our government had acted proactively when given the opportunity instead of ignoring and downplaying it.

But I’ve also been saddened and disheartened by the conspiracy theories, the refusal to research or read and the misguided protests around the country, with armed groups converging on state capitals demanding reopening. I have been, and continue to be, angry.

Those acts check off all the boxes on my list of things that make me angry.

Most people are likely familiar with the — in my opinion not funny — “you might be a redneck” jokes. I have a similar — not intended to be funny — list, entitled “you might be a hypocrite.”

If you believe it’s perfectly acceptable for businesses to refuse to bake cakes or provide services for gay customers, but also believe it’s unacceptable for a private business to tell you to wear a mask for public safety, you might be a hypocrite.

If you think it’s government overreach and infringing on your rights to ask you to wear a mask and socially distance in public for public safety, yet believe it’s perfectly acceptable for parents to be forced to send their children to school with armed teachers, even when it violates their beliefs, for public safety, you might be a hypocrite.

If you make comments about how businesses need to reopen so that hard-working people can support their families or about how you would do whatever desperate measures are necessary to support and protect your kids, but then condemn people of color, both here in the U.S. and in other countries, for taking desperate measures to protect their kids, you might be a hypocrite.

If you make comments about how police should be respected and indignantly yell about how blue lives matter, but then show up fully armed at government statehouses to yell and spit in the faces of police officers, you might be a hypocrite.

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, along with the protests and riots that have erupted around the country in recent days, has only added to my sadness and anger.

It’s really easy for those of us here in rural Wyoming — very rural, very homogenous, very white Wyoming — to condemn those living in conditions we can’t really claim to understand and taking actions we ourselves have the privilege of claiming we would never do.

I’m a middle-class white woman. Although I personally have experienced discrimination simply due to being a woman, I cannot ever fully grasp what it’s like to be a person of color in the United States. I will never have to worry that my sons or my husband will be suspects or even killed simply because they’re taking a jog or walking the dog, driving through a white neighborhood or birdwatching in the park.

I can, however, empathize and listen. And listen hard.

We are a deeply racist country. Racism is in our DNA and was built into our Constitution.

The right to protest is also in our DNA — our country was founded on it.

But that right too is discriminatory.

Suffragettes who protested for equal rights were imprisoned and tortured. Civil rights icons who protested for equality were similarly imprisoned, tortured and killed. Those marching for the rights of the LGBTQ community have also been harassed and attacked.

Apparently the right to protest belongs primarily to armed white men on the steps of state capitals and taking over wildlife refuges, because we certainly weren’t all accepting of the peaceful protests of Colin Kaepernick and other people of color, and those standing or kneeling in solidarity with them. If you’re OK with the former, but not OK with the latter, you might be a hypocrite.

Over the weekend, I’ve seen numerous social media posts pointing to the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr., and using them to condemn the riots and unrest occurring throughout the country. These posts claim King changed the world without resorting to violence. I have to ask if things have really changed that much if we’re still protesting the same things half a century later and point out that MLK also said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

It’s important to ask what it is we’re not hearing.

Throughout the pandemic, there’s been a lot of talk about “normal,” whether it’s establishing a “new normal” or people saying they just want the “old normal back.”

I, for one, don’t want that old normal back. While there are definitely things I want, like the ability to gather in groups or for my kids to go to school, there are also a whole lot of problems in our society that the novel coronavirus has only amplified.

I don’t want normal to continue to include racism, discrimination and massive income and wealth inequality. I don’t want normal to include blatant hypocrisy where it’s OK for fully armed white men to complain about their rights but not OK for peaceful people of color to take a knee to protest racial injustice and the often unpunished murder of African-Americans by those sworn to uphold the law, protect and serve.

I don’t want normal to include privileged white people retorting, “All lives matter,” when it’s not their lives being sacrificed. Of course, all lives matter when talking about broader principles, but that completely misses the point when talking about the reality that the lives of people of color are routinely devalued. Simply look at the data surrounding COVID-19 deaths and how they’re disproportionately black and Latino. I don’t want normal to allow white people to claim the deaths are made up or the virus is a hoax simply because it’s not directly impacting them.

I’m not condoning or advocating violence. I’m similarly not condemning or blaming all law enforcement — it’s been my experience that our local officers have often demonstrated restraint in situations I believe would have played out very differently in other communities. For that, I’m grateful.

There are, however, very real, very deep and very pervasive problems we have to stop shoving aside and burying simply because they don’t personally impact us in our little Wyoming bubble.

It’s really tempting for many to say, “Stop being so negative. Look for the good in the world.”

But that too is a privilege not afforded to everyone equally.

Instead, look head-on at the bad in the world. Listen to the voices of others. Recognize the inequities, the discrimination and the pain that generations have endured.

And then do something about it.

Stop being willfully ignorant. Stop being a hypocrite. Stop being closed-minded.

I dare you.


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