00:08:46: Guest Blog Contributed by Writer, Journalist, Editor and Personal Historian, Paula Stahel,
PLEASE NOTE: Any images that appear below the post are a result of the links included. No one particular site was highlighted in Paula's original post. ************************************************ 00:08:46 Paula Stahel Bread is a near daily part of my life. A few years ago I began baking my own, as it is healthier than store bought, and making it delivers its own satisfaction. Flour, salt, a bit of fat, water, yeast, a pinch of sugar, mixed and turned out to be kneaded. Eight, nine minutes of pressing, folding, turning, pressing more. Eight minutes, forty-six seconds. Enough time to transform those few elements into a living thing under my kneading hands. Enough time for a man’s life to be ended under another man’s knee. On Thursday, June 4, after Rev. Al Sharpton’s searing, and soaring, eulogy of George Floyd, I—along with millions of others—observed eight minutes and forty-six seconds of silence, marking the exact time on May 25 that Floyd was murdered. Eight minutes, forty-six seconds passes in the blink of an eye when you’re busy. It seems interminable when you must be still. Yet what I was doing was not hard—what George Floyd endured was, and was unimaginable. I had not expected the tears that spilled from my eyes within seconds. I also did not expect the words and memories and thoughts that flooded through my mind, as they must have through his. I am not wealthy, nor do I have civic, social, or public power. Yet I have the privilege of skin the color of the bread dough that takes form under my hands. George Floyd did not have that privilege. And for that lack, he died. George Floyd was young enough to have been my child—my son, T, is only four years younger. I never lived the fear that Black mothers deal with, but T learned early what their sons are subjected to. As a teen, one of his close friends was M, a smart, articulate, well-mannered young man of color. Just the kind of kid I wanted to rub off on my kid. One day T came home after he and M had hung out together. He was agitated, angry. “We went into a store,” he said, “and this guy started following us around right away. He was watching everything we did, like we were going to steal something.” T knew it was because M was Black—clerks never did that when he was out with a White friend. “It made us feel like criminals.” Guilty because of the color of skin—a knee on the neck. The summer after I graduated high school, I worked in a shoe store. Not long after I started, N was hired. He was about my age and we hit it off. It didn’t hurt that I found him handsome. It didn’t matter to me that he was Black. But it mattered to our boss. He didn’t like it when N and I took our breaks together outside the store. We ignored the boss, and the passersby who glared at us. Then one day N didn’t have a ride home, so we hopped into my red VW and I drove him. Later, the boss strongly suggested it was “not a good idea” for me to be driving “to that part of town.” Within days, N lost his job. The boss said he wasn’t needed, but he quickly hired someone else. Someone White. Not needed because of the color of skin. Or was it really “protecting purity”?—a knee on the neck. Several years ago a now deceased friend took me to lunch at an exclusive club he belonged to. A couple of decades earlier, neither he nor I would have been allowed to dine there. R, who had retired at a very early age, had been one of the first Black men to break the color barriers in New York City banking. Now he led a national foundation focused on health education for Black men, he’d lobbied Congress, testified before the FDA, and was devoted to opening doors into the finance world for young Black men and women. As we were leaving, two White men he knew were entering. When he greeted them, their body language told me they were uncomfortable. But it was I who became manifestly uncomfortable when one of those so-called scions among the local movers and shakers used the word “boy” as casually as he might use R’s name. Which he never did. R gave no indication he noticed, but how could he not have? Revulsion still courses through me at the memory. Lesser than because of the color of skin—a knee on the neck. Always, as Rev. Sharpton said, the knee is on the neck. Four days before George Floyd’s death—his murder—my car died at an intersection. Even with light traffic due to the stay-at-home order, drivers piled up behind me. As I was on the phone with Triple A, a Black man, about my son’s age, rapped on the rolled up passenger window, indicating he could push me. I had to wave him off, and I read the change in his face. A moment later a Hispanic man of about the same age came to the opened driver’s side window. I too had to signal him to wait a second as I finished the call. I apologized, and gratefully accepted his offer to move me out of traffic. He and the Black man immediately teamed to get me around the corner, into a drive, and under the shade of a tree. The Hispanic fellow headed off to wherever he’d come from almost before I finished expressing my gratitude. But even more heartfelt was my thanks, by way of apology, to the Black man—how I’d been in phone hell with AAA, how the passenger’s window wouldn’t roll down so I could talk to him. My relief was as great as his, with him knowing I had not flinched from him, feared him, because of the color of his skin. When my bread comes out of the oven, its crust is beautifully brown. Before I learned to knead the dough well enough, there would be a hole in its center when I cut it open. My heart is cut open now, and there is a hole in it. There is a hole in the heart of this nation. There’s no way to fix the hole in the baked bread, any more than there’s a way to heal the holes in our hearts. And there are many. They are named George Floyd, Manuel Ellis, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, and so many more, going back to Emmett Till, and so many, many other names we’ll never know. Christopher Cooper’s name could have been on that list. All holes gouged in our hearts over centuries of senseless, vicious, reprehensible deaths from knees and nooses and weapons wielded by man against man. Only because of the color of skin. These are our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our sisters. It must stop. We must stop it. And to do that, we must act. Protesting is important because we take comfort in solidarity and community. But the public protests will eventually fade. The problem will not. Here are ways you can work to effect true, long-term change.Write your county commissioners and sheriff, your mayor, your police chief, and city council members, to require implementation of (Campaign Zero's project) 8 Can’t Wait. (https://8cantwait.org/ and https://www.joincampaignzero.org/) It costs nothing, it requires nothing except enactment, and decreases police violence by more than 70%. Yes, we need police officers, but first and foremost they should be peace officers. Write your local sources and insist changes be made to the selection process of recruits. On Tuesday, June 2, Meghna Chakrabarti’s NPR program, “On Point,” addressed “What the George Floyd Protests Reveal About Policing in the U.S.” (https://bit.ly/3dJCj9R). Her guests included (along with Tampa’s mayor and previous police chief Jane Castor) Jeh Johnson, former Secretary of the Dept. of Homeland Security. Johnson asserts that recruitment criteria must be changed—he said too many people go into law enforcement because “they want to be the bully on the block or the badass.” We don’t know what we don’t know. Becoming aware helps us change our perspective. Do you know about your hidden bias? (https://bit.ly/30jstYC) Spend twenty minutes listening to Chimananda Ngozi Adiche’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” (https://bit.ly/30hjtmB) Read A Rap on Race, drawn from more than seven hours of discussion between anthropologist Margaret Mead and writer/activist James Baldwin in 1970. Out of print, it should be available at your public library; if not, reserve it through https://www.worldcat.org/ 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice (https://bit.ly/2XHyagU) (I’ll [Paula] add a 76th: Google “black owned indie bookstores” and shop from them—Jeff Bezos gets enough of your money from other stuff.) And continue to protest. (But please, safely ... and in a mask!) In his eulogy of George Floyd, Rev. Al Sharpton announced that on August 28—the 57th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington—a national protest will be held in DC to recommit to that dream. Rev. Sharpton calls for organization of such events in every region, “not only for a march, but for a new process ... to be getting us ready to vote, not just for who’s going to be in the White House, but the state house and the city councils that allow these policing measures to go unquestioned.” We must act. All of us. Now."
Paula Stahel is the founder and owner of Breath And Shadows Productions, her personal historian, journalist, editor and writer production company.