By Kavita Jaikissoon

With tensions high because of the coronavirus, you would think that race would be the last thing on anyone’s mind. But the death of George Floyd and the central Park incident involving Christian Cooper has made it blatantly clear that not even a health crisis or a potentially crippled economy can stop racism in America.

When situations like these occur, it can be disheartening. It is easy to look at others to throw blame, but it is more important to look inside ourselves and figure out what we can do to stop tragedies like these from ever happening again.

President of St. Francis College, Miguel Martinez-Saenz, recently released a report on Twitter about how we, as a community, can help put a stop to this. His words were inspiring to say the least.

In his statement, President Martinez-Saenz said that these problems we have don’t belong to any one group, but to all of us and we are all needed to “fix” these problems.

As President Martinez-Saenz put it so eloquently, “Keep in mind, when journalists talk about they, killing them, we fail to recognize that “we” are killing “us.”

Until those of us fortunate enough to live unthreatened by state violence begin to speak out and understand these problems as “our” problems, little will change.

Those of us who see and “experience” the problem at a distance and, in some real sense, don’t feel the lived reality of our neighbors, need to develop a compassionate attitude that leads to action. And, we need to understand that many of our friends, our colleagues, our students and our neighbors are hurting. Which means “we” are hurting.”

People are social creatures. We live in groups and depend on one another to survive. The only way we know how to live is as a community. We all affect each other and need each other.

When members of our community are hurt, the nation as a whole is hurt. This is why it is necessary for not only the wounded but the entire country to seek justice. The only way we can survive is by helping each other.

It may seem like discrimination and racism are someone else’s problem, but that is only because we lack proximity to the problem. If we are not directly affected, it becomes easier to ignore everything. As the saying goes, ‘out of sight out of mind.’

President Martinez-Saenz reminds us about how important proximity is in his statement,

“In his seminal book Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson encourages us to ‘to get proximate’ so that we can fully appreciate the challenges confronting our neighbors and so maybe, just maybe, we can be part of the solution and not simply part of the problem. Yet, when many of us are left to wonder how our neighbors feel each and every time another black body is brutalized, we know that we haven’t gotten proximate. When we make excuses for the continued brutality and overt discrimination that remains prevalent in our communities, we know that we have failed to get proximate.”

When we choose to ignore what is happening around us and refuse to act, we become the problem.

In the words of our beloved President Martinez-Saenz,

“…our first obligation is to investigate our own complicity in the problems we say we overtly oppose as well as the subjective mechanisms that condition our habitual and psychological responses to these problems. This is a fundamental obligation that is not easily accepted. Asking ourselves if we are part of the problem takes courage; it also requires us to look honestly at the ways we rationalize our ways out of becoming part of a solution.”

President Martinez-Saenz has already become part of the solution by using his gift with words to help empower his community. He has reminded us that we can make a difference rather than sit around and blame others.

We can use our gifts to make the world more inclusive. Whether it be writing an article, starting a petition, or staging a protest, we can all do our part.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

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