Sometimes You Must Pick A Side

Hope Sanders

Hope Sanders

Hope Sanders is a Harlem native with roots in the deep south of Mississippi. Hope is a Social Work Major at CUNY Lehman with a minor in Political Science. As a member of Justleadership USA and College and Community Fellowship, Hope has lobbied for the restoration of Pell Grants in prison and advocated for Criminal Justice Reform. Hope is also the recipient of the 2020 Women’s Foundation Education Fund Award. As an advocate, Hope intends to help create policies for populations directly affected by social injustice.

I was always told that life isn’t “black and white”. However, I learned that in life there will come a time when you must pick a side.

As a pre-teen, when my friends and I had crushes on boys, we agreed to never like someone else’s crush. One of my friends broke the rules and secretly began writing little notes to my other friend’s crush. I was aware of my friend’s deception, but I felt I would be looked at as an instigator if I said anything, so I kept my mouth shut. In no time, my friend’s disloyalty was discovered, and I was caught in the middle of a terrible fallout. I believed if I’d spoken up, one would be upset with me for telling, while the other would feel betrayed because I didn’t tell her. But the truth is that my silence gave consent to wrong and made me a participant in another’s pain.

Thinking back, I know that my reasons had everything to do with me, and nothing to do with saving a friendship. I didn’t realize how one friend’s actions affected all of us and I was more concerned with how I would be affected by speaking up. That moment taught me that there is no safe middle when it comes to doing what’s right. Staying in the gray area will distort any real intentions you have, and sometimes do the opposite of what you hoped.

Following the murder of George Floyd, the lootings and destruction of property are testament to the pain felt by Blacks for years. I don’t condone violence, but I understand. I too became fearful that the rioting would reach my Bronx neighborhood, and destroy stores that many of us relied on. Store owners made “Black Owned Business” signs then prayed the mob would spare them, while other store owners stood outside with bats, ready to defend their property. I felt the tug of both sources of pain and almost fell into that safe middle. I almost became angry at the protesters though I had been among them just a few hours earlier – but I had to choose between condemning and condoning the violence.

In their efforts to obtain justice and equality for African-Americans, Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X used different methods. Dr. King believed that non-violence only way for peace, Malcolm X believed that violence is sometimes necessary for peace. While I empathize with those that have lost businesses, I also believe that you can’t place value on human life, and these protests are about the survival of the Black race. Though I personally believe that violence is never the way, it is to be expected when fighting against racism. Violence is at the core of racism and, since the beginning of slavery till now, has been the primary language of our oppressors. When I see the violence, I see Blacks speaking in the language best understood by those who have enslaved and created systems that continue to diminish the worth of Black lives.

Racism has never produced peaceful solutions. It is the source of history’s most horrifying acts against human beings. People speak of the Holocaust as the worst act of genocide but at some point, it stopped. Jews could build communities to become self-sufficient. The Holocaust is taught in schools and there are dedicated days of mourning and remembrance. Yet the teaching and understanding of slavery is clouded under the idea that Lincoln gave us freedom. More than 400 years since enslaved Africans were brought to America, Blacks continue to fight for their freedom. The violence you see isn’t an act of revenge but the response of people who are done dying.

There’s no need for a bunch of statistics to know that racism exists; either you know it, or you know it and choose to act like it doesn’t exist. There is no gray area. However, this is the first time that the nation is forced to address the core issues of racism and make meaningful changes. After the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter fought to bring awareness to unarmed Black killings. For many years, BLM only received coverage when another Black was killed. Now, Trump’s hate mongering campaign may have done the opposite of what he intended. His language and behavior have pulled back the curtain on racism in America. If he hadn’t tried so hard to divide the nation, perhaps people from all races wouldn’t be forced to confront their own morals and beliefs about racism and choose a side.

The gray area is a comforting yet morally challenging space. It can warp your sense of right and wrong. My White friends are just as aware of the racism in this country as my Black friends. I don’t have to explain to them or suggest books for them to read. They know as I do, that history has plenty of examples to learn from. They know, as I do, that White people designed the system that has dehumanized Black people and systematically destroyed generations of Blacks. It’s obvious that White privilege exists. Though we haven’t ended racism, we have, as Americans, finally moved out of the gray area. We have begun to discuss our present and our past more truthfully. Enough is enough. The nation has spoken.

John Bouman
Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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