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Normal is a Privilege

4 min read

I just wish things would get back to normal.

Its a refrain we’ve all heard since the emergence of COVID-19. The world has been thrown into chaos, our way of life has been threatened, and many people have lost their jobs. The best minds in medicine and science are encouraging life-altering precautions like social distancing, wearing masks, and staying home. People are having to adapt to this “new normal” quickly, working from home, perhaps balancing the pressures of parenting children, or taking care of family members who are at higher risk. While its obviously the right thing to do to be cautious, and not re-open the country too quickly, protestors have taken to the streets to demand that things go back to “normal,” even if it puts others at risk.

Life in a global pandemic is not comfortable, convenient, or fun. We can all agree on that. The “new normal” sort of sucks.

But, what of the old normal? Well, consider George Floyd.

Last week, our chaotic world erupted into further chaos with the brutal murder of George Floyd by a Police Officer in Minneapolis. Make no mistake, I absolutely believe that this was a murder, and one that was the direct result of a fundamentally flawed system that demands reform. There must be justice for George Floyd, and it cannot just come in the form of punishment for the killers, it also must come in the form of radical, systematic change.

For many people, going back to “normal” is, on the surface, quite appealing. Returning to our privileged lives, where we feel safe to go out to eat, walk with our friends and family at shopping malls, gather in our places of worship, and to do it all with a strong sense of security – after all, the police, and all other systems of power, are there to protect us.

But, for a huge portion of our country, “normal” means avoiding the police because they cannot be trusted to protect you. It means less opportunity at work. It means overcoming an unequal system to fight for the same benefits that others readily receive.

You know what? The old normal sucks, too.

It is no surprise to me that many people who are calling to “re-open our country” in the midst of a global pandemic are also telling protestors to calm down, or to “tone down” their methods of protest. These demands often come from a position of privilege; of preserving a system that fundamentally benefits them at the expense of others. They like things just the way they were.

But, this time, we can’t let the cries for a “return to normalcy” win. As an ally, I cannot sit idly by, or demand that the oppressed respond to their generations-long oppression with calm, non-violent protest. It’s been nearly 30 years since the police brutalization of Rodney King, and it’s clear that nothing has fundamentally changed in that time. Peaceful protest isn’t enough. Voting isn’t enough. Patient conversation isn’t enough. Incremental change isn’t enough. Now, I am not advocating for violence, but I am advocating for persistent, enduring commitment to driving change.

We must listen to what Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in August of 1963:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

So, fellow white people, it is time to step up. Acknowledge your privilege, speak up, and demand radical, fundamental change. Amplify the voices of people of color. Fearlessly support Black Lives Matter. Embrace the fact that creating a more just, equitable, and fair society likely means that you will need to sacrifice your own privilege for the benefit of others.

Let’s not go back to normal. Let’s create a better normal.