Last night, I received an emergency alert that Philadelphia was under a mandatory curfew in light of violent riots downtown. This was the moment that my blissful ignorance was shattered. Unsure of what was happening, I did a quick Google search to find dozens of pictures and videos that rattled me to the core. Police cars on fire. People looting stores. Utter chaos in the streets of Philadelphia; in the streets that I called home for three years. Unable to look away, I watched on, feeling helpless as my heart sank into my stomach. I couldn’t sleep to well and I woke up feeling that I needed to gather and process my thoughts the best way that I know how; writing.
This was the moment that my blissful ignorance was shattered.
I have to be honest, I don’t understand the actions that took place last night. I don’t understand them because I’ve never been in those shoes. This morning I’m just beginning to understand that the privilege I’ve recognized throughout my life has been sugar coated and surface level at best. I feel sheltered, I feel confused and I feel stupid. Throughout my schooling experience, I learned about racial injustice as if it were a thing of the past. I’ve seen things as level and fair for anyone who was willing to work for it. It’s clear to me now that that’s not quite the case. It’s apparent that these injustices are ever present in communities, deep rooted in our world and more than just scattered news stories. It saddens me to think that I’ve lived a life where I’ve never thought too hard about how good I’ve had it or about the systemic suppression of people of color. It upsets me that I’ve never before thought about what I could have been doing to make an active and positive change when it comes to leveling the playing field and fighting for the people of color around me.
This morning just I’m beginning to understand that the privilege I’ve recognized throughout my life has been sugar coated and surface level at best.
Let me be clear, I don’t agree that violence and destruction are ever the right answer. I don’t feel that the (violent) events unfolding are constructive, helpful or appropriate. It feels unproductive and extreme for people to incite chaos like they have. However, I have also never lived what other human beings are living and never felt what other human beings are feeling. It’s clear to me that things are broken. I’m going to sneak another MLK quote into the body of this paragraph, but “a riot is the language of the unheard.” I’m not sure what I can do to help make things better, but I do want to help these voices be heard, not just listened to. I’m not sure what my role is, but I know that sitting silent on the sidelines is not it.
I’m not sure what I can do to help make things better, but I know that sitting silent on the sidelines is not it.
I don’t understand, but I want to. I’m not sure how I can help, but I want to. It’s hard to feel optimistic about the current state of the world, but I want to. This blog is me asking for help. I want your thoughts, I want your suggestions, I want this to lead to a productive, constructive and respectful conversation. I want to know how I, as a single person, can help turn things around for the people who are hurting the most.
UPDATE [one week later]
It’s one week after this original post and things have become more clear over this past week. It’s apparent now that the protests occurring throughout the nation are by and large peaceful. There are a handful of violent and opportunistic outbursts, but that is not what this is all about. What began as a confusing and alarming evening, has morphed into the beginnings of a movement where people are demanding justice that has been “given” to them over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, it is far from ideal to see businesses with windows boarded up, to have a city-wide curfew, to wake up explosions at nigh (people exploding ATMS), to see the national guard patrolling the streets of Philadelphia and to witness so many people so frustrated and hurt. It breaks my heart. I went from in shock last week to on board this week. It isn’t right that people are destroying things and it sure isn’t convenient that there is this chaos (in addition to COVID nonetheless). However, those things and feelings fail in comparison to the absolute injustice that has woven it’s way from history through and to the present. If you’re reading this and are white; let’s educate ourselves, support those who need us, speak up for what is right and stand with our brothers and sisters; our fellow human beings. If you’re reading this as a person of color; I’m with you and I love you; I’m on your side and I’m here to help.
Joe Rinaldi, PT, DPT