In the same week, the USA sent astronauts to space while also having protests take over the streets

On May 30th, 2020, SpaceX and NASA sent two astronauts to space from American soil. This hadn’t been done in nearly a decade, and it spoke volumes to our potential as a country.

However, in the same moments of this monumental event, people of color across the nation were in utter despair and anger with the recent murder of George Floyd, an African American gentleman who lost his life at the hands of the police. A tale all too familiar.

I did tune into the space launch. It was inspiring when considering all the work that went into ensuring a safe and successful trip for our astronauts now orbiting in our atmosphere. But once the awe faded away from the launch, media platforms focused back on our Earthly-dilemmas, and I was struck by the dichotomy of the news coverage on this day.

Life’s Balancing Act

Our lives are all filled with highs and lows that occur simultaneously. We have trained ourselves in a type of balancing act, handling these divergent ends of our lives with some semblance of grace.

A while back, I came across the quote: “All sunshine and no rain makes a desert” and it helped me have a different relationship with the unfavorable moments of my life, recognizing that balance is a necessity. If life only consisted of high moments, we would not know how to appreciate them.

What America has experienced over the past week has been an example of this balancing act. It’s shown us that our world is filled with despair, but also silver linings of what is possible. The space launch demonstrated what we are capable of when we work together; but the killing of George Floyd reminded us why this is not happening in all sectors.

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The Origins of Bigotry

As someone with a background in history, I understand that social and cultural change does not happen immediately, and often remind those around me of how recent some of the most shameful acts of our past occurred. Take the civil rights movement of the 1960s — this was a mere sixty years ago.

Everyone has seen the infamous photographs from the civil rights protests and marches, with white American’s terrorizing and beating people of color with hate-filled intent. Seeing the anger in these white American’s, my heart goes out to the protesters who endured such pain for the sake of justice.

Bloody Sunday, Selma, Alabama, 1965. Source: AARP

But when I look at pictures from the 50s and 60s, I recognize that some of the individuals caught in those images could be alive today. And if they are not, their children are our neighbors; they work with us, and function in society the same as everyone else.

While I will not deny that there are children who will defy their parents’ ways — for good or for bad — many children will adopt the ideologies of their parents. A new generation born does not mean the previous one’s culture promptly ends. Even though we no longer have legal segregation, we have institutionalized racism that affects where people live, who gets a decent education, and who has the right to power.

The American’s who terrorized people of color influenced the way their children, and potentially their grandchildren, view and interact with people of color. These are the individuals who hold office in our judicial system, our police enforcement, and even in our government.

Do we really think that these individuals are unbiased, are completely reformed when compared to their elders?

Change Begins with Mindset

Slavery was declared illegal by law in 1865; Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, among others, fought for African American and all people of color to have equal rights a century thereafter; and here we are, 60 years after the civil rights movement, still fighting for people of color to be treated as equal citizens. If this simple timeline is an indication of anything, it is that laws are not the sole movers of change.

What will alter our circumstances is change in mindsets. It is not enough to say that being racist is shameful. This mantra no longer meets the mark. The problem with today’s society is that we allow bigoted mindsets to continue under the guise of jokes or behind closed doors. People will say, “I’m not racist,” and never consider taking a step back to analyze their inherent implicit bias that affects their interactions with others.

We have misgivings and mistrust for one another that are not always consciously known, and this only exacerbates the problems we face. When we give a genuinely concerted effort to understand where one another comes, we can start the process of shedding our implicit reservations. Communication is where we begin, but this has shown to be difficult in practice.

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

The Turbulence of Communication

The unfortunate truth is that we are not trained to listen to others. If we are passionate about a topic or something angers us to our core, we tend to become victims to our emotions. At this point, we are usually unwilling to listen to others, and maybe rightfully so. I am not saying that bigoted people have some moral claim, but rather that disagreements are rarely constructive because both sides so entrenched with their own perceptions of reality.

Only recently have I started to take notice of when I am getting internally upset as I speak. I can feel it swell in my body; the heat rising to my skin when I speak on the injustices that are seemingly rampant in our world. Before I ever realized this was happening, I would just rant, yell, argue — and I thought I was being constructive. But I wasn’t.

All I was doing was speaking to say my side; in truth, I was not interested in hearing the other side at all. I wanted to feel heard, and so I made myself heard, while absurdly neglecting that my opponent felt the same way.

As a Mexican-American individual, I can only imagine the pain that African American’s feel on a daily basis, but I do empathize with the general consensus that people of color in America are not treated equally: they are profiled, mistreated, and disproportionately uneducated when compared to our white American’s. The need for a genuine conversation about race is rising, and it is going to require both sides to meet in the middle and actually listen to one another for us to make change.

Addressing Uncomfortable Truths

We need to understand that our neighbors are our brothers and sisters, whether they are of African, Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, or European heritage.

When we have riots in the streets, we need more people to question the origin of these intense emotions, and less on the tangible impact that we can see unfolding on our TV screens. The why is this happening, not the what. People are angry for a simple reason: they have not been heard for years, for centuries, and they are trying to send a message that has been ignored time and time again.

We are all people; we all have families, dreams, and hopes. We experience the same emotions and have the ability to learn anything we set our minds to. We all want to love and be loved.

And yet, these simple truths are blinded by ignorant attitudes. So much energy goes into unfounded hate, and we need to educate one another that love will get us so much further in society. The negative energy we hurl towards one another could be used to achieve the unthinkable, and indeed, the United States of America does have feats to be proud of; the recent space launch was one of them.

But it is time to allow more people into that circle of success. We have an uncomfortable history to reconcile here in the States, and we will all benefit tremendously when we address this fact: people of color have been treated like second class citizens since the founding of our country.

Photo by frankie cordoba on Unsplash

We need the people in power and those who live in privilege to step outside of themselves and their experiences to recognize this fact that is so plainly laid out in our history books. A fact that was reiterated in the killing of George Floyd, and all the innocent people of color before him who have lost their lives for the melanin in their skin.

We need compassion, and compassion starts with communication. Recognize that protests and riots are caused by years of silenced voices, and once we truly address the trauma and pain of our citizens of color, we can begin a healing process where more people are safe in our society.

Writing as a way to live intentionally, think critically, and connect with others. Other places I exist on the web: linktr.ee/kailamartinez