Reflections of experience and how we receive others’ truths

In eight minutes and 46 seconds, fissures in the public American psyche ripped apart a facade this year.

I describe them as fissures because that’s my experience.

On March 11, 2011, I was a senior in high school in Misawa, Japan.

The 9.1-magnitude earthquake that afternoon lasted for approximately six minutes.

Vivid are the memories of those six minutes, they can still sweep through my consciousness like the tsunami which hit our shores.

The sound of the lockers rattling, threatening to rip off the walls.

The teacher’s eye contact and command that I remove the younger classes from the building, instruction to get them home safe.

Like that disaster, this year’s swift end to a man’s life commanded action.

Yes, the first wave of the response were the marches, the tears, the anger and hurt which had long built up beneath the surface of the everyday sight for those lacking melanin in their skin.

Then we watched mothers, veterans and children step alongside, and some, in front as human shields.

But if we stopped reading at verse 13, and laid down life for such friends, we’d be cutting out 20 more books of instruction, guidance, warning and further calls to action to seek justice and do unto others as, well, I’m sure you follow.

“But they comes a day, Sheriff, they comes a day when a man got to stand,” said Charlie Biggs in Ernest J. Gaines ‘A Gathering of Old Men.’

Rather than run away from the difficult reflection in the mirror, from the accountability and repair work needed, there comes a day, a week, a year and each day after that to roll up our sleeves and do the difficult work.

“The only way for us to get to the beloved community is to dismantle systemic racism in all its institutions whether that’s in education, housing or healthcare,” said Tom Roberts, Ohio conference president of the NAACP while discussing Marietta’s removal of the words “Negro/Black,” “Oriental,” “American Indian” and “Spanish American” from two city application forms for federally-funded Community Development Block Grant programs in July.

While those words may seem more obvious, what about the use of specific adjectives and adverbs?

A close friend asked me this week why the use of the adjective “all” was offensive in the “____ lives matter” dialogue this year.

The surface answer: because of the way the phrase has been used by white supremacists and other hate groups to ignore and invalidate a different experience: that of the Black man, woman and child.

I can’t imagine many here in the Mid-Ohio Valley have experienced a 9.0-magnitude earthquake.

Without providing the description of lockers shaking off walls, the visualization of grabbing the shoulders of minors and pulling them out into the open air between cream-colored buildings, how are you to gain access into what that was like for a 17-year-old U.S. Air Force dependent?

You could identify with the loss of cell service, probably better than most.

You could identify with the loss of power, especially after the derecho the following summer which had me hunkered down on Fourth Street watching large branches tumble down the lane.

But without listening, we are left with only assumptions.

So to turn to those parts of speech once more: I’ll look to the words of my father, the Air Force vet who married a Mexican single mother and adopted me.

Scrawled in his writing on that poster board sign that he carried beside my dark-skinned sister on July 4 as they marched down Sanjon Road in Ventura, Calif:

“Every life matters, when Black lives matter.”

You’ll see that same underlined adverb in the photos published by the Ventura County Star.

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.


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