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What Can We Do About Racism? Listen.

By Fr. Daniel Pinell


Like many of you, I watched with horror the killing of George Floyd, while a police officer put a knee on Floyd’s neck. “I can’t breathe” he kept repeating to the police officer, who ignored George’s pleas and those of others around him. The indifference by the police officer to these pleas was infuriating and heartbreaking.


This event, along with endless debates on social media and the media, has left me disillusioned and saddened. As a Latino immigrant in this country, as someone who has had unpleasant experiences with the police, this period of time can be exhausting and wearing. Let me explain why.


Racism affects us differently. Events that showcase racism in our country affects us differently. For some, the murder of George Floyd is simply a tragedy involving one rogue police officer that needs to be punished for his crimes. Once the police officer is punished, then we can say justice has been served.


For some of us, however, the murder of George Floyd is another painful reminder of how our skin colors can affect the way we move around the world. What some see as a “few bad apples,” some of us see as a recognizable pattern, incidents that happen more often than we care to remember. The pattern we observe from our experiences paints a clear picture for us: systemic racism is alive and well in this country. We can present our stories as proof, but they are often dismissed as isolated events at best, or untrue at worst. Many times, we can be blamed for the incidents: “well, if only you hadn’t done that, or dressed in that way this wouldn’t have happened to you.” Such comments are hurtful and can put us in a defensive stance where we might feel, or at least desire, our experiences to be validated by others. And this defense is what creates exhaustion for many of us. It also creates the sense that we are not heard.


I believe that since we all experience the reality of racism differently, we need to be careful about how we evaluate other people’s experiences of racism, especially the experiences of people of color. It is easy to transpose our experiences onto others and infer that, since we don’t experience the same level of racism, or no racism at all, that that must be the lived experience of others as well. If we want to learn more from others who walk in a different skin than ours, we need to nurture the habit of listening. Listen without judging. Listen without immediately coming to conclusions. Listen, even if their experiences don’t match yours. In fact, listen especially if their experiences don’t match yours! In doing so you may experience that the greatest lessons in life sometimes comes from those who have a different perspective than yours.


Photo Taken By: Dave Miller (Ocala, FL)

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