LEARNING TO LISTEN: LANGUAGE OF THE UNHEARD (A PTP Editorial)

My heart throbs from the pain our national, even global, community is suffering. It’s nice at times to enjoy the idea that we live in a civilized society where justice is carried out appropriately at all times. That is not reality. In times like these, this fact becomes all the clearer.

According to FactCheck.org and Associated Press, George Floyd died on May 25 from asphyxiation due to police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck during an arrest while Floyd repeatedly stated that he couldn’t breathe.

The conversation since this tragic and inhumane event has been centered on the role racism continues to play in our country. While this particular issue can be viewed as police brutality (“bad cop versus human”), it relates to a larger trend of racism in America that can be seen through white police brutality toward black civilians, as in the case of George Floyd.

If the races of the people involved were reversed, it would still be awful and wrong. The problem that’s coming up now is that what really happened was just another in a long series of white police treating black civilians in an inhumane way. It’s never “just” about race, but race is a huge issue in our country, dating since its birth, which is why it does and why it has to take the forefront of the conversation.

Some have not been content to peacefully protest, instead venting their frustration with violence, looting, and riots. What many pacifists don’t understand, even my first reaction, was the response of support for these riots. The truth is: no one is saying that “violence is the answer”. They’re saying that “We are sad to see it, but we *understand* how it got to this point”. It’s happening because people don’t feel like they are being heard and sometimes throwing a fit feels like the only way to be heard (psychologically speaking). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said, “And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” As a child, I remember throwing the phone across the room and screaming at the top of my lungs when I felt like my parents (people of authority) weren’t listening to me. This is just a national version of that.

In the same vein, as a Christian, I wish people would stop hijacking my religion to sell their beliefs. That is exactly the true meaning behind “taking His name in vain”. Swearing is rude and coarse perhaps, but this is worse. The terminology I used here, “hijacking my religion” came to me from one of the best episodes of Bones, where the team discusses how they were personally affected by 9/11. One character, who is Muslim, uses this phrase to explain that those who created the tragedy of 9/11 were radicals and extremists who did not believe in the teachings of his own faith. That is how I feel about people cherry-picking the Bible to promote their personal hate speech. My God said, “Love Thy Neighbor.” No quantifiers. Just love those around you. “Love others as I have loved you.”

Examples of some good news following these issues:

  • Police officers in Coral Gables, FL kneeled and asked for forgiveness from protestors.
  • Camden, NJ Police officers marched peacefully with protestors and barbequed with them.
  • Flint, Michigan, Genesee County sheriff took off riot gear and asked what the protestors needed from the police; they said “walk with us”: he replied, “let’s walk”.
  • Portsmouth, NH Police chief issued a statement including, “Law enforcement officers are trained to treat all individuals, whether they are a complainant, suspect, or a defendant, with dignity and respect. The callous manner in which this arrest was carried out is reprehensible.”

If you have never seen the film Remember the Titans, or haven’t seen it in some time, I recommend watching it. This movie is so important. Even before everything that has happened recently, I re-watched this every few years, if not more, because it’s such a masterpiece of humanity and love. Remember the Titans reminds us to love each other, no matter where you’re coming from or where you think you’re headed.

There is a lot of music already available in the world that could represent these past few days and all the emotions that have flitted through my head and heart. I’ll only discuss a few here.

To start with, a love song. Technically, this song is about a particular romance, but the chorus fits with the theme of this article: we are all the same and should treat each other as such. It’s called “Not That Different” and the artist is Collin Raye, a Country genre musician popular in the 1990s. Here is the chorus: “I laugh, I love, I hope, I try/ I hurt, I need, I fear, I cry/ And I know you do the same things, too/ So we’re really not that different, me and you.”

Next, I’d like to discuss one of my favorite Pete Seeger songs, “Study War No More”. The lyrics I want to talk about are these, “I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield/Down by the riverside/ Down by the riverside/ Down by the riverside/ I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield/ Down by the riverside/ Study war no more.” I wish we could right now, but I know we have a lot more work to do before this injustice has been eradicated from the system. Someday, I hope we reach this point.

I’ll end with the one I find the most powerful. It’s a song from the musical Les Misérables, which portrays the lives of people preparing for a war – though it takes place after the notorious French Revolution, it is based on a real battle, of real people, who were facing real oppression. It not only feels relatable to the current situation, but the sound of it seems to echo the throbbing pain in my heart. Maybe that’s why it has been so stuck in my head lately. Here is just a portion of the lyrics, “Do you hear the people sing?/ Singing the songs of angry men./ It is the music of a people/ who will not be slaves again./ When the beating of your heart/ echoes the beating of the drum,/ there is a life about to start/ when tomorrow comes!”

While I know there is a lot more involved with these issues, this is what I have learned and heard and taken from it so far. I’m still learning. I’m still listening.

Here are some articles I’ve found to help us do more to help:

There’s so much more I could say. So much literature and film and music I could pull into this discussion. For now, this is the gist.

It’s painful, but I’m here.

Your Creative Culture Connect

Gabrielle has been writing since childhood. She is currently enjoying her day job, but considers herself a writer first and foremost. She also loves to read, travel, and sing karaoke with friends.

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