On June 16th, 1944, 76 years ago today, 14-year old George Stinney was executed by the electric chair following a 2-hour trial that found him, an African American boy, guilty of murdering two young white girls in South Carolina. His court-assigned lawyer offered no defence, and the all-white jury pronounced him guilty after 10 minutes of deliberation. In 2014 a judicial review overturned his conviction when a court ruled that he had not received a fair trial.
This is a horrific and heartbreaking story, but it is just one of hundreds, no…thousands, of stories of the incredible injustice that people of colour have lived (and died) through in so-called “modern” history.
What the black community is showing us now is how much trauma they have built up inside of themselves, from their own lifetimes and that which they have inherited through the experiences of their ancestors. They were hurt, badly hurt, and now that hurt wants out. The ways that they are choosing to let it out through the loud and vocal expression of their pain are nowhere on scale to that of the violence and cruelty that most of them carry in their ancestral history.
As I witness the rightful unfolding of the rage, despair and frustration by people of colour all over the world, rising up to add their voices to the demand that BLACK LIVES MATTER, I say YES THEY DO, of course they do, they always have, how did we get it so wrong??
Then in myself I feel a whole myriad of things.
I feel extreme empathy towards my fellow human beings that that have experienced so much suffering and cruelty. I feel the deep sadness and disbelief of wanting so much better for our world and wondering how we are ever going to get there. I feel the shame of belonging to a society, and to a group of people, who let skin colour be an indication of “better than”, and who used this one defining feature to excuse the inexcusable.
The truth is a lot of my shame makes a lot of present day sense - I/we have a lot to do to clean up in regards to how we use our skin-color privilege. But some of the outrage being expressed is not about me directly, but about the acts of my ancestors and their cohort throughout history. This means that although some of what is being expressed may not be directly personal, it is my job as a living representative of those that perpetuated inexcusable violence in our history (and in many ways and still do) against people of colour, to hold space for the pain and the anger that is being released right now. Part of that responsibility is to ensure that I allow for my own shame to rise up and spur me on to take positive action in supporting great change, as opposed to letting this shame settle in so deep that I run and hide and turn away from the experience, continuing to contribute passively to the problem.
The suffering must stop. What if it stops here? What if this incredible expression of deeply held trauma, and the powerful rising of a global voice that says NO MORE marks the end of an era that must come to an end if we are to move to a future that includes a unified people, working for a better way for our children. A future that can include a whole lot less shame for the acts of their ancestors if we choose to do right by our children, right now.