June 1, 2020 | General, Race and Equity,
Resist Numbness by David C. Howse
This post was written as part of a larger series leading up to our fourth Town Hall on Wednesday, June 17th at 12 pm EDT. We encourage our audiences to read all of the posts in the series in preparation for the Town Hall. Information on the Town Hall and the remainder of the series can be found here.
George Floyd was basically my age, and his murder has affected me deeply. Personally speaking, and perhaps like you, I am outraged. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the racist act in New York’s Central Park and now the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis – it’s all disgusting and overwhelming; and though I have no words, it is all I want to talk about.
I am unsettled and can’t figure out what productive actions should emanate from the deep rage that’s gurgling in the inner depths of my spirit. And so I thought I would write to you because I thought, as someone who cares about ArtsEmerson, you might want to know that I am hurting. As are many people on our team. And many more in our families and in our audience.
I haven’t had the stomach to watch the video, but I know that many have witnessed the brutal murder laid bare, thanks to the courage of the people who, though unable to stop it, resolved to film it. That scene is one that no human should have to witness, let alone endure. What is clear in that video is that his life – the life of this one black man, George Floyd, his physical body was attacked and killed.
What we don’t see as clearly in the video is the ripple effect of his murder: the psychological, social and emotional attack on most all black people. That ripple creates waves that will continue to rise long after the protests end. As a black man, with two teenage sons, I live in the wave that results from too many ripples, and sometimes it truly is hard to breathe.
The constant devaluation of the black body affects us in so many negative ways – one of which is to rob us of our sense of self-worth and dignity. I fight against that every day. And in the words of Toni Morrison, “I am not a victim. I refuse to be.”
So why am I saying all of this?
Of course, I appreciate your care and concern, but know that I am not writing for a sympathetic response. I write in hopes that you will keep clamoring for Justice – not specifically for my benefit, but for the benefit of all of us. Words are appreciated, but action is necessary. I am hoping that you will continue to ask yourself, “What’s to be done? And what is mine to do?” The latter question is the more important one. For me, I am praying that my rage continues to find productive ways to live in the world.
The death of George Floyd is unacceptable. Let’s not get distracted from this truth into a debate about the way the protests have unfolded. And let’s not get wrapped up in any of these incidents as singular. I’ll say the names again and thereby add them to the long, too long, decades-long, centuries-long list of them: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. Racism is alive and well in all aspects of our lives. Let’s not be numb to the weight of racism on black people and the negative effect it has on all of us. What are you going to do?
In times like these, I tend to look for inspiration, challenge and hope in the artists and art surrounding me. I have always valued the voice of the artist, and I was grateful to hear from Daniel Beaty with the following poem that he wrote on the subject. It resonated with me. Given ArtsEmerson’s stated focus on transforming the city’s violent history around race, it feels right that I share it here. Daniel starts:
“My heart is so full about all that is happening that I wrote this message from our [Black] Ancestors…”
I can’t begin to explain the weight of my emotions; but art, for me, helps to make meaning of the many vicissitudes of life. Art, in all its forms, is the place that I go to be challenged, to be reflective, and to be inspired – especially in moments like these. I am committed to using the arts as a platform for allowing my rage to live productively in the world.
Let’s keep clamoring for a just America. Let’s keep building new ways of being together. Let’s keep reimagining the future where we all belong…
I’ll end here: It is some kind of hell to be black in America. But today, at least, I am fortunate to say that I am still alive.
P.S. If you haven’t already, you may consider checking in on your other black friends. They may not want to hear from you, but they likely won’t forget that you had the courage to connect.David C. Howse, Executive Director
Marquee photo credit: Chris Faraone, editor-in-chief DigBoston