I love my country, state, and community. My heart, like yours, is broken after watching the chaos of the past week unfold. My heart caught fire with the latest addition to the long list of black lives that clearly did not matter to those in power. I watched the nine-minute video of U.S. citizen and fellow Texan, George Floyd, pleading for his life and begging for his mother. It was disgusting to watch him seek some humanity with a desperate plea, “I can’t breathe.” He is not the first person to make that declaration while in the custody of those who pledged to protect him. Derek Chauvin’s callus knee in the neck of a fellow human must be a clarion call for this nation. This particular murder may have happened in Minneapolis, but all our communities should take it personally. I assure you it is personal for me.
My wife and I share three amazing children. Two of my children are blond-haired, blue- eyed teenagers. One of my children is a six-foot, three-inch-tall black adult male. We love our three children and worry for their futures. Yet, our safety concerns are greatly elevated in the case of one of these beautiful souls. When our family watched the video of Mr. Floyd’s murder, only one of us fearfully acknowledged that he could be the one gasping for his last breath in a similar scenario. No parent wants their child to end up a hashtag. I fear for his life when he walks my neighborhood alone or when he practices his inline skating in the parking lot adjacent to our house. I fear for his safety when he goes to the grocery store wearing a mask. I fear for his life when he drives anywhere.
I do not irrationally fear strangers intentionally seeking to harm my son and other people of color. My own experience tells me his size and color combined with another’s implicit bias and fear has unintentionally put his life at risk. We have seen examples across the country of well-meaning calls to law enforcement to simply report citizens doing normal, ordinary things ... while being black.
While my other two kids will face their own challenges, I do not fear for them every time they leave my house. I should see my country, state, and community as partners in guiding all my children through their lives. Yet, my two white children will always enjoy the privilege of support and safety. My black son does not have the same expectation. Admitting this fear to you all—the community I love and advocate for every day—hurts, scares, and angers me.
If your first reaction to my own fears or to the horror of Mr. Floyd’s murder was defensive, rather than compassionate, I am calling you to find your humanity and embrace the embers of your love. While you and I may not have created the systems of discrimination that exist, we can no longer ignore them. All lives cannot matter until all black and brown lives matter too.
We cannot view the scourge of racism and the senseless murder of Mr. Floyd in terms of black versus white. Urban versus Rural. Blue versus Red. Generation versus generation. Religion versus religion. My neighborhood versus your neighborhood. We must view this as a battle between love versus hate—the United States of America versus racism.
No politician is going to save us from this fight for the soul of our country. It’s time for people like me to love, listen, learn, support, read, research, understand, partner, and then, act. We must have the courage to look in the collective mirror and acknowledge that our country, as great as it is, does not offer the same equal love and protection for all its citizens. Then, we must look our neighbors of color in the eye and voice a heartfelt apology as we offer our hand in rebuilding trust, relationship, and partnership. My son—our collective sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, neighbors, co-workers, students, and friends of color—deserves to live in the full glory of our country, without fearing it.
Russell Lowery-Hart is president of Amarillo College.