Keeping the people around us safe, whether we know them personally or not, shouldn’t be something that is simply convenient for us. However, our individualistic culture and tendency towards selfishness within the United States have proven that safety and human rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not something that is necessarily considered essential for everyone.
I’m not only talking about the Black Lives Matter Movement either, not quite anyway.
As my last few weeks in San Luis Obispo come to a close, I’ve watched the number of people attending protests or rallies slowly dwindle. This could be due to a number of things, but I also feel that it points to one issue that many brought up when skeptical about the outpouring of support for the movements against the death of George Floyd— performative activism.
While people of color have to be conscious of these issues or live these lives every day, for others, it’s a trend that they can pull on like a coat for a few hours and walk around in with their game faces on and fists in the air. This article in the New York Times goes further into the question of whether or not the level of allyship is genuine and will last or is simply performative and timely.
For the first time, this past month of protests introduced a common majority of white people at many of the protests that seemed overwhelming to many of the black protestors trying to hold their own space. Though this seemed daunting and possibly dangerous at first, the results of this surprised the Black folx attending. The attitudes of many of their allies revealed “a sharp turn by white liberals toward a more sympathetic view of black people.”
While for some of such allies, it was convenient to be out there supporting and such performative justice may not hold, it’s not that way for all of them. There is a shift in the way young people interact with and see one another within their own lives as if maybe this truly is not just a trend.
It can bring people together in a way that wasn’t possible before like Theo Schimmel in Washington Heights, who identifies as white and Indian, together with his Afro-Latina and Black classmates Melany Linton and Stella Tillery-Lee. For young people and especially those who are not used to seeing this kind of support, it’s important. These protests and this movement tell them that their lives do have value beyond what someone can do as an afterthought or a quick black square to post on their Instagram before calling it a day.
This value shouldn’t be something people have to question so constantly, whether that’s out on the streets or living their everyday lives just like everyone else. Keeping the people around us safe or even alive and on the same terms as the rest of us should not simply be convenient for us and yet—for many people—it oftentimes is.
For Adilka Pimentel, a black Dominican who helps organize at Make the Road New York, she recognizes that “social justice movements ebb and flow, but hopes that the new protesters remained part of the movement.”
Her words are specific to the Black Lives Matter movement, but I want to extend them past that; I want you to exchange the words “social justice movements” with “global health changes” and switch “protesters” with “essential workers.”
Now, the sentence reads “she recognizes that ‘global health changes ebb and flow, but hopes that the new essential workers remained part of the movement.” Like I said earlier, keeping the people around us safe shouldn’t be something that is just convenient for us. Yet, essential workers didn’t choose to be essential. Not with the global health change that is now still a pandemic and workers that remind part of the movement didn’t necessarily have a choice.
Those of us who are not considered “essential” are more out of harm’s way than we realize on a daily basis. And somehow, many people are still not doing the social distancing, mask-wearing, sanitizing, sheltering-in-place practices that would really help out everyone else that is essential or is working to keep the rest of us safe.
This is a movement in itself and this virus does not care whether or not we live. Yet, so many of us are not doing the work to avoid dying. Right now, I’m wondering when people will start actually showing up for one another when it comes to the coronavirus. The BLM Movement saw a mass show out in a short period of time and still, so many people are not willing to do that when it comes to potential risk of their families and loved ones and friends… We’ve got two different movements going on and each seems to be going in different directions.
Our actions within each speak louder than any of us ever could when it comes to what we really believe life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means. Over time, what we do will determine where this reality takes us; optimistically, I am hoping for the best. But I also know that it is up to every one of us to do the work, educate ourselves, protect both ourselves and the people we love, and to pay attention to what’s happening in the world before it’s too late.
In this case, ignorance cannot last forever, and depending on where the path leads for each of us, proactivity is better than reactivity. Do the work to figure out what that looks like and I will see you next week.