By Constance Reyes
I am living through a time in human existence that is beyond anything I thought I’d ever see or experience in my lifetime. A pandemic that literally shut down the world and caused every single person to rethink what is really important and what isn’t.
To many, it has been a time for personal change and retrospect. A time to value family, friendship, and common suffering, appreciate the people who quietly serve us every day in the food industry, medical fraternity, and service-oriented work in general. It also allowed us to connect or reconnect with God.
Yet, to many this is a time to assert rights and attack those who are seeking to protect themselves and their loved ones from the ravages of this disease. They chose the self-centred demands of freedom to get a haircut and go to the beach rather than soberly obey laws for a short while so that we can collectively get past this global crisis.
Whether we have indulged in the former or latter, the world is now a different place because of human response to a common enemy.
It is quite clear that we are in a war. I have no idea what it means to live through wartime or to live in a war-torn country. However, this virus has given me a glimpse into what that can be like.
Fear. Worry. Anxiety. Watching people lose loved ones and wondering if it will happen to you. Seeing people get wounded and hospitalised and some who will not make it—the casualties of war—and wonder if you are in the firing range of the common enemy. Will I get sick? Will I survive? And, worst of all, not knowing when or if the war will come to an end.
This war has given me the wonder of prolonged alone time. It has sharpened my belief system in a God who promised He will never leave me to wander through a frightening and strange new world. It has sensitised my spirit to His presence. I know that this too shall pass.
Suffering can do two things to the human spirit. It can prove its resilience or bring to light its deep brokenness. For many people (like me) this brokenness and resilience are happening simultaneously. For many others, however, this time of trial has caused the abscesses that have been slowly growing, to rupture causing its nasty inflammation to run out.
This, I believe is what has happened in America. It may seem that the stresses of COVID-19 have caused emotions to run extra high in the US resulting in the unrest in their cities. This isn’t true.
This week I read someone’s Instagram quote that said “Covid-19 did not break America. It just revealed what was already broken.”
It is foolhardy to expect any group of people who have gone through generations of being treated as sub-human to not rise up in revolution and say ‘enough is enough’.
So oppressed by systemic racism are they, that despite rising to the top of their fields in every possible prestigious profession, they are still not given the equal opportunity to just live without being harassed or racially profiled by many of America’s privileged whites.
Now that they have had to watch a man being murdered, begging for air, calling for his mother and begging for his life because of the scourge of his blackness, how can they not rupture the boil of pain under pressure for generations? Something had to give.
As Trinidadians, it is difficult for most of us to fully understand the gravity of the race issues in the US. Yes, we have racism here. I have experienced it and I have close friends who have had their own experiences of even their family members rejecting them because of race.
I believe due to our common history of oppression as a majority and the subsequent rise out of colonial rule to independence has dulled the pain somewhat. What we have accomplished as an independent nation eventually has given us a semblance of equality. But there are issues to be raised and conversations to be had about our own problems. We should never lull ourselves to sleep with the false lullaby “all ah we is one famalaaaay”.
It is on our doorstep for we also have faulty systems that favour the rich for power and position. We still have to grapple with people being preferred for jobs because of the school they went to or the lightness of their skin tone.
We have young black men incarcerated for years for misdemeanours and weed possession yet Brad Boyce walked free after a manslaughter charge. The list is long as it is varied with similar cases.
If we are not careful, we could end up in the same place that America finds itself in. I find it sickening to see all the negative tweets and Facebook comments about what is going on in the US.
We cannot close our eyes and not take a MORAL STANCE to stand with them in this time. If people are only seeing the looting and violence and not considering the root, then we are in denial that their cause is a real one that needs to be addressed.
The most exhaustive effect of racism is its denial…….It is also racism’s most effective weapon. When we as West Indians point fingers at African Americans and join in the chorus against them, we perform an evil so deeply hypocritical and insidious that the devil has no choice but to high-five himself. ‘ West Indian Hypocrisy and American Shame’ (Yamfuja Big Girl Words 2015)