Each time June 1 rolls around, my attention becomes divided ever so slightly and it stays divided until late September.
As the date approaches, whether I’m at home, in Israel on an archaeological dig, or in Oklahoma visiting family, I dread what that day means. I know that it will take a lot of energy. Why this date you may ask? If you live near the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, you know why – hurricane season.
The Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 and stretches through the end of November. By the end of September, after the peak of the season, we all can breathe a sigh of relief. Storms that develop in October or November are usually weak compared to earlier storms. But from July to September, I always have one eye on the tropics and my evacuation supply box packed and ready.
I am currently watching out for a tropical system named Christobal.
If you don’t live near the Atlantic or the Gulf Coast, you probably didn’t know why June 1 is such an important date for me until I told you. I wouldn’t expect you to be thinking about hurricane season. The burden of vigilance falls on those who live in the hurricane zone. And when I moved to the Gulf South almost 20 years ago, I did so with the understanding that I was accepting this burden.
Disclaimer: All analogies break down and I will admit that this one has many flaws. I couldn’t help but think about this minor burden I carry a few months of the year as I talked with black friends about racial violence and discrimination this week. More than one of my friends expressed the heavy burden of vigilance they carry each day of their lives. Though I should be more aware of their burden, I can get lost in my own little world and fail to think about the years of racism and discrimination each of them has faced.
One friend said through tears, “I’m just tired. When is this going to end? This is a heavy burden.”
And unlike my “burden of vigilance” during hurricane season, my black friends do not have a choice about their vigilance. They have to keep a watchful eye because of the actions of others and unjust systems in America.
Think about these instances: A black man named Christian Cooper was bird-watching in Central Park and asked another park visitor (a white woman named Amy Cooper) to leash her dog. The woman, who was in the wrong about the leash, called the police to report that a black man was “threatening her life.” Thankfully, the man was recording the incident on his phone. Tim Duncan, a black man who serves as the athletics director at the University of New Orleans (UNO), was casually walking with his wife near his own house in Newton, Mass. when police officers stopped him with weapons drawn. They told him that he fit the description of a robbery suspect that had been reported in Boston. “Black male” was the description. Duncan said he shared what happened to him not to call attention to himself but in hopes that the athletes at UNO (of all races) would begin a dialog together about race in American.
We are horrified by the struggling voice of George Floyd – crying out for help as his life was taken. But seeing that terrible event does not show us the wide extent of racism. Neither does the back and forth we are seeing on social media. It is the Cooper/Cooper interaction and Duncan’s story that give us a glimpse at the breadth of the problem. Racial prejudice does not simply rear its ugly head in the most horrifying of cases. The troubling reality is racism’s presence in the simple and mundane things of life – like bird-watching or walking in your neighborhood. One of my black friends said it so concisely – “Amy Cooper weaponized race.” It is a daily struggle … a daily burden.
America has placed a heavy burden on our black friends and neighbors. They have to keep their guard up in ways we will never fully understand. Families just like mine in every way except one — the color of their skin — must plan for potential racially-motivated scenarios every time they leave home. Me, I simply go. I don’t carry the burden they do. It is time to listen. And it is time that we recognize and work to alleviate their burden.
Photo Credit: NICK SELIVERSTOV at Unsplash.com