In August 2020, members of the Richard Wright family wrote statements regarding the social unrest our country has faced and shared them in the “Richard Wright News Bulletin.” In honor of Richard Wright’s 112th birthday on September 4, 2020, HBW begins a three-part series as an inter-generational family tribute to Wright’s legacy.
I am grateful to George Floyd for reminding me of an important truth.
We do not understand the full meaning of our lives as we are living them.
This truth can serve as a powerful antidote to the frustrations and self-recriminations punctuating life-long struggles that yield a sense, more often than not, of slow progress.
A tipping point is something that is built up to, and it is not given to us to understand how important our contributions are to the building of that edifice. Visionaries have some insight into this process, but most of us just do the work and operate on a core of faith that the immediate and local benefits of our actions are meaningful enough, and that the sum total of all of our efforts drives something bigger: a larger wheel of progress. Maybe. We hope. These efforts of communities across the nation, decade after decade, are a key ingredient to why the push for change, sparked by Mr. Floyd’s death, is sustaining itself month after month. Our culture of struggle is the foundation for why we have not stopped. Why we know this moment cannot be squandered. Many of us could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed with just keeping the bills paid, keeping our families fed. After the first weeks of marching, networking, conceiving of next steps, maybe we are entitled to consider the work done, and the demands of maintaining day-to-day, more pressing? But we’ve been taught by the giants that raised us up, that we must do more than just survive as individuals. Others among us with more fortunate circumstances might have decided by now that they can return to their hobbies, their private passions, their sports, fashion and Playstations, instead of continuing to push. But that same culture of struggle continues to speak to us all. What it whispers is: ‘Now. The time is now’. We may not have known in our daily lives what our efforts would amount to, but in this special window of opportunity, there is a great increase in focus and clarity: all of our cumulative actions are now visible, right in front of us, in the waves of diverse human beings come together for a purpose many of us believed, in our darker hours, most other Americans did not care about. In these waves of protesting Americans of all skin colors, I see the efforts of my mother, and the efforts of my grandparents, the efforts of their peers, and all their ancestors: the slaves, the Indigenous people, the abolitionists and anyone who ever fought for freedom and equality.
These efforts are now visible in our waves of protesters, but also in the opposition, which is now manifesting daily in the form of unabashed Neo-Nazis and Klan ranting, marching, frothing at the mouth, spewing
their hatred compulsively in front of cameras across the nation. And in the form of daily police abuse that instead of being chastened by our efforts, is redoubling, also compulsively, in an effort to endure and remain the unspoken norm. The restraint of law enforcement in the face of heavily armed bigots storming the Michigan Capitol, yelling un-masked in their faces and threatening to lynch their governor. Gretchen Whitmer, is in stark contrast to the often vicious approach law enforcement has taken toward peaceful protesters and journalists. What once we alone saw, is now difficult to ignore for the entire nation. Most importantly, our efforts are now visible in the proximity of the goal itself. We are being heard, and a majority of ears are on our side. From our uncertain horizon, we woke up into a world with a national conversation, legislative action and the beginning of a palpable shift in how some police departments, school districts, businesses, branches of the military, and local government address race relations, policing and the Justice system. This moment of clarity is something some generations never get to experience: all they have, from the moment they understand that they must struggle until the moment they struggle their last, is the daily, slow march towards a hopeful but uncertain horizon: a notion that there must be a better way, a better era, a better world, a better version of us. Our present moment is precious. A gift created by our own efforts, and the efforts of countless before us. And created by George Floyd. Beyond the pain of knowing so visually, so audibly, how he left the earth, there is the pain of knowing that he did not know of this gift. He did not know that the confluence of all our efforts, a pandemic, a fascist leader, an election year, and his own death, would lead to these sustained moments of clarity. I’d like to think that had he known, the effect would have been deeply salutary for him. The moment is indeed now. We probably will not get another such moment within our lifetimes. And other global challenges await us with an urgency that signifies there may never be another such moment – at least not for our civilization. The unity we seek as remedy to the broken policing and Justice systems, is the same unity we desperately need in order to confront existential threats posed by a changing climate, massive non-human species extinctions, environmental degradation and a global slip away from democracy and international cooperation, towards isolationism and autocracy.
Minorities and the poor suffer first, and suffer most from all of these wider-world problems. In the quieter moments of the night, when I cannot sleep for all of what is going on, I suspect it is not only our destiny to seize this moment for ourselves, but also to progress it to another moment of wider change, for all of life on earth. My way of thanking Mr Floyd, thanking all of you who read this, and all of us who throughout our earthly timeline have fought struggles small and large for balance in this world, is to sustain this moment in my mind, and in my heart. Like a meditation, should I lose it for a while, I simply return to it, and give it power again. Thank you to all of you who do the same.
July 31, 2020
Malcolm Wright is a filmmaker, writer, conservationist, and grand son of Richard Wright.
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