Can you see my pain now?
The ongoing protests, confrontations and destruction that are roiling America’s cities are about decades of racism, financial terrorism and unrelenting disempowerment.
Yes, triggered by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, the protests are nonetheless desperate expressions of the despair and exhaustion and disbelief brought on by 40 years of an America that just does not see blacks, Latinos, or poor people of any color. An America that every day says to them, I don’t see you; I don’t hear you; you do not matter.
As if any of this needed further confirmation – it didn’t – the coronavirus disproportionately wounds and kills blacks, Latinos, poor people and ordinary day workers of all colors – the populations of our nation that we do not care about – and have not cared about for 40 years.
During this pandemic, who is running the subway trains, the buses, gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, hair salons, dollar stores and other necessary service businesses? The answer: ordinary people who are disposable.
On top of 40 years of deregulation, legislation, automation, court rulings, power-lobbying and politician-buying, add President Donald Trump to the mix. The walking, talking, tweeting embodiment of the past 40 years of rob-the-poor America should make clear to anyone who’s missed it that our nation’s power brokers are corrupt, dysfunctional and morally bankrupt.
Can you see the pain?
As a cultural critic for the past 20 years, I have repeatedly observed and written about the descending state of our nation. But those who need to hear those words – and see the pain in the lives of half the nation – cannot hear those words or see those lives. And they are not moved by the despair, struggle, dangers and terror in the daily lives of black, Latino, poor people, or simply everyday workers who have been living paycheck to paycheck for decades.
The people who need to be moved – especially the men and women in positions of power – are unseeing, unhearing, indifferent, cruel and immovable. I know many of those power brokers. I have talked with them. Words and arguments and reasoning fall like dust around them.
The story of the present is visible for all who wish to see it. It has been visible increasingly for 40 years. The coronavirus and the open murder of George Floyd – a stand-in for every poor and you-don’t-matter person – only brings it into sharper relief.
The dominant forces and people who design and run the power frameworks and relationships of our nation do not care about you. They care about themselves and their insatiable greed and selfishness. With racism, lies, distractions, and trolling, they every day divide the citizenry and reap the spoils.
The forces dividing the people by race, ideology, political party and a host of other issues – deliberately selected to wedge us apart – are so successful that no adequate popular solidarity can be created. Somewhat ironically, this serves to make lots of ordinary citizens – all in their own kinds of pain and trauma – hostile to each other. Nobody can walk in the shoes of the others. This makes unwitting citizens do the work of the power brokers.
The power brokers do not care about you.
Do you see our pain?
Maybe not. But I’ll tell you this. Whether you are white or black, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, powerful or not, no one is coming to save us.
Whatever your identity, only we can save ourselves. As the growing street demonstrations across America attest to, an enlarging coalition of citizens – not just black – is starting to connect the dots, starting to see or sense the moral rot of the entire system.
Perhaps this is the beginning of something profound. There is a chance that the televised murder of George Floyd and the laying-bare by the pandemic of all the other grotesquely unjust arrangements of society may be a teach-in for a large majority – both Republican and Democratic – of ordinary Americans.
And there is every sign that across the globe ordinary citizens who are also protesting in growing numbers are similarly seeing or sensing the way the world for decades has increasingly been put together for the sole benefit of an elite group at the top.
Lately I find myself daring to hope that these days may constitute the unfolding crisis-moments that pull or push ordinary citizens together. That citizens will continue to watch and learn and understand everything around them. It’s a tall order, but it’s one that plenty of people do individually.
The only way to create a just and sustainable society – sustainable in every way – is to base it on the value and brotherhood of all people. I believe that this is the bedrock principle that is coming into view.
Brian T. Watson of Swampscott is author of “Headed Into the Abyss: The Story of Our Time, and the Future We’ll Face.” Contact him at email@example.com.