Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
“The fact that humanity has to clarify that any lives matter, should be concern enough”. This quote is just one of the many quotes that I continue to contemplate as I see my home country, The United States of America, dealing with gun violence and the increasingly obvious racially-based violence against African-Americans and Africans living in America. As a white woman born in the United States, I know I cannot ever really understand my privilege and therefore can never understand what life must be like for African-Americans and Africans living in America. I understand that from the pure coincidence that I was born to two white parents, both who graduated from universities and were employed at the time of my birth, I had and still have many privileges that most people in the world do not have. I have never been followed through a mall or stopped by police without cause. I have never been accused of or even suspected of committing a crime. I have never been declined a job interview because of the ethnicity or race the person reading my CV assumed I was. I know I can never understand what African-Americans and Africans in America are dealing with in my country right now. I can only try to hear their stories, fight for justice, and express my sheer embarrassment and disappointment with the structural and human elements within America, my home, that continue to create violence and unfair life experiences for people of color.
Should anyone in the United States have to clarify that black lives, or any other lives in fact, matter? No. Undeniably that should not be a question in anyone’s mind since the United States is supposed to be ‘a melting pot’, a place where everyone is equal, and the land where dreams come true. Yet it does need to be stated. It needs to be shouted from rooftops, in courtrooms, and schools. In a country that prides itself on freedom of all citizens to live safe and productive lives, how is it that I now fear raising my two children who are half-American and half-Tanzanian in the country of my birth– the country they are citizens of? How is it that people I have been friends with for years are posting that when people say ‘black lives matter’ that they are somehow anti-police or terrorists? How is it that forgetting to turn on a signal light, having a broken taillight, and wearing a hoodie as a young teenager have all resulted in being killed? How is it that three countries have now released travel warnings urging their citizens to consider the risks of traveling to the United States, especially if they are black men? It’s hard to watch. It’s hard to believe. Yet it’s impossible to ignore or deny. My home country is riddled with racism and the equality promised to people in the United States is a bit like that promised to the animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.
Throughout my time at the Rotary Peace Center, though, all of our professors have encouraged us to look for connectors, positive news, and opportunities for growth. Searching through all the news about shootings of African-American men and snipers killing police, I have tried to do this. Seeing African-American men form a security wall around police forces, reading the notes written by students in Minnesota to the family of one of their school cafeteria workers who was shot, and reading through materials for tomorrow’s session about non-violent actions for change, and looking around at the faces of my peace colleagues from all over the world, I do believe there is hope.
As an avid reader and teacher, I look to quotes to clarify my own thinking and help me make sense of the world around me—to strengthen my sense of hope. Quoting a few of my peace icons, “I think it’s possible to have been a happy child, as I was, and still question and push back with regard to societal conventions”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Recognizing that my privilege prevents me from fully understanding racism in America, I will do what I can to push back against the racial injustices in my country to the best of my ability. I will cling to Martin Luther King’s statement, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”, holding tight to an overall faith and trust in the goodness of people. Black lives matter. I hope that one day this statement won’t need to be made, that people will know, believe in their hearts, and show through their actions that black lives, and all other lives, matter. I have hope that one day, humanity will not have to clarify that any lives matter.
Karah Germroth – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow Class 21