A few weeks ago I read an article in the Polish quarterly, Przekrój, about a woman who decided to start a walking journey. She walked 440 kilometers along the polish coast of the Baltic Sea. She simply took a backpack with some food and clothes, packed a tent and a sleeping bag, and began her journey. She walked barefoot or wearing shoes. She wouldn’t mind her looks, manners or status. The walk was supposed to help her find her very own self, give her back sense of humanity, and bring her back to the roots of mankind.
On 16th of July 2017 Eurie Lee Martin, an African American citizen of the United States made a very similar decision. Martin was much more humble than that Polish woman – he just wanted to walk 20 miles in order to visit his family. July in Georgia is usually very hot, and it may be very hard to walk. But, the 58-year-old man simply enjoyed walking, and he just wanted to do so.
Someone informed the police, that there is a man. Walking.
It may have occurred because of the weather or because his road led him through small neighborhoods with inhabitants that happen to be very suspicious; someone informed the police, that there is a man. Walking.
Eurie Lee Martin did not survive when meeting the police. He got tazed to death.
In 2016, 963 people were shot by the police force in the United States. In Poland: only two. In my world, police informed about a man walking would either tell you that it’s a man’s right to walk and to stop bothering the police – specifically if he’s not endangering anyone – or (if they’re the nice ones) would come in order to check weather the man is not lost, sick or in need of help. Here in Georgia, Eurie Lee Martin did not survive when meeting the police. He got tazed to death. In my world such a situation is unthinkable, almost impossible. Here, it is a day-to-day matter. Someone killed by the police. Again. Wore a hoodie, drove a car, had a gun, was suspicious, taken as a threat. Was black.
So what do we define as normal? Things that are healthy, sane and reasonable or something regular, ordinary, acknowledged? There’s a certain unbalance between both comprehensions of that word. When does normal become unbearable? In our social structures there are different paths that life follows. Normal, regular, daily. What is a daily routine for one does not necessarily have to be routine of somebody else. Police violence in the United States, hate speech in Poland, regular robberies in Brazil, constant inflow of immigrants and refugees to Europe, terrorist threats, lack of housing security, overcrowded jails, devastation of the environment. We just learn ways to live with all these issues; sometimes we seem to forget about them.
At some point someone had to say “NO”
But should we agree to live the life in which the color of your skin may pinpoint you out of the crowd as a potential suspect, gangster, homeless, or a beggar? Someone whose black life doesn’t matter? In the 1960’s separation of white and black folks in the United States, segregation was perceived as a general rule. At some point someone had to say “NO”. Dignity applies to everyone and equally. Some brave people looked for solutions and implemented them. That meant changing lives of others.
It is the United States who calls itself the leader of the free world. It called itself that when Jim Crow laws were in full power; it calls itself that now when its president advocates for a Muslim ban.
Somehow in 2017, a country built on immigration, racist discourse, body-shaming and lack of respect for human rights other than the right for property, mass-incarceration, police violence, voting disfranchisement, anti-immigrant policies became a day-to-day thing here. Somehow waving confederate flags does not make you suspicious – the suspicious person is the one who tells you why using this symbol is wrong on so many levels. Things changed and yet stayed the same.
Simultaneously, it is the United States who calls itself the leader of the free world. It called itself that when Jim Crow laws were in full power; it calls itself that now when its president advocates for a Muslim ban. But in fact the problem is that one third of its citizens are not seen as citizens. Instead they are not seen at all.
There is a great myth of American identity, which markets Americans as open and “mixed” society that differs when it comes to states but is always united as one when it comes to saving the world from aliens. Patriotism of oppressed groups is a highly improbable assumption as there is no definition of who actually is American – Native Americans, African Americans, Latino or Asian immigrants? None of those identities fit into a smiley white protestant portrait. In order to unite those diverse identities under common banner, previous harms would have to be recognized first. That is the point where restorative justice takes the first step. That is the point where all of the changes should start.
The Fellowship opened my eyes to the size of the American Dream myth. It allowed me to take one step deeper, scratch the surface, and knock on the door. As James Baldwin wrote:
“The story of the Negro in America is the story of America – or, more precisely, it is the story of Americans. It is not a very pretty story: the story of a people is never pretty. The Negro in America gloomily referred to, as that shadow which lies athwart our national life, is far more than that. He is a series of shadows, self-created, intertwining, which now we helplessly battle. One may say that Negro in America does not really exist except in the darkness of our minds.” I realized that somehow there is only one narrative to the history, and apparently it is snow-white.
Our minds get easily comfortable in the notion that someone else has already resolved all those issues from the past. We get comfortable thinking that maybe burying damage, vandalism and trauma deep within the darkest corners of our closets will make them fade away. They won’t and they can’t. Instead they multiply and blow up the closet with the entire house. For what it’s worth if somebody does not really believe in justice, he should take that into account