I awoke this week-end to the news that Donald Trump had briefly taken refuge in the White House emergency bunker as violent protests continue to rage in Washington, D.C. and across the USA. Yes, Mister President, perhaps you taste the fear that you have willfully instilled through your divisive pseudo-politics, your outrageous, slovenly-twitted, demagogic slogans and lies. You have fostered fear as a manipulative tool to divide and conquer for your personal aggrandizement. But today’s peaceful protestors are courageous and determined, fueled with a righteous indignation which would make Martin Luther King Jr. proud. Many risk their lives as their protests degenerate into violence, sometimes due, as in the case of our French “Yellow Vests”, to the infiltration of extremist groups and looters. But such regrettable violence is also a furious, primal, scream, a spontaneous expression of the sheer desperation of the downtrodden. All over the nation, people of all colors, classes, and creeds, are demanding respect and equality for all. Black lives Matter. All lives matter. We must all acknowledge this simple truth, yea, bow to it, NOW.
We, the people, will not be silenced. Americans, and oppressed people worldwide, are literally sick to death. The Covid19 pandemic has highlighted the tragic inequalities between black and white, poor and rich, the flagrant injustices that are a greater plague to the solemnly proclaimed American values of “Liberty and Justice for All” than any virus, however devastating. The current health crisis reveals the somber reality we have collectively contrived to conceal: that the famed prosperity of the “American way of life” is a fragile edifice, a fake trompe l’oeil. The obscene affluence of the 1% (“the haves” to cite G.W. Bush) is constructed upon the systematic privation of the “have-nots”, on the continued exploitation of illegal yet essential immigrant workers and the continued stigmatization and economic enslavement of minorities, especially African Americans. In a nation which pays lip-service to equality while basic healthcare and nutritious food remain unaffordable for so many, the diagnosis is obvious: our democracies must radically change or die.
Still semi-confined to my Parisian apartment, I contemplate the violence that is sweeping the USA like wildfire from a concerned distance. I am struck by several synchronicities: the blatantly racist behavior of Amy Cooper toward Christian Cooper in New York’s Central Park occurred earlier on the same “Memorial Day”, May 25th 2020, in which a Minnesota police officer murdered George Floyd, kneeling on his neck until he died. Christian Cooper’s viral video poured oil on the flames of the bonfire of protest sparked by Floyd’s horrific death. This murder will not fizzle out once more into ashen resignation, adding one more tragic number to the shockingly long list of black men and women who have paid for the fantasy of white supremacy and entitlement with their lives.
Amy Cooper’s hysterical call to the police could easily have led to the death or imprisonment of the admirably cool-headed African American writer, editor, and birdwatcher, Christian Cooper. The latter’s presence of mind led him to film Amy’s scandalous conduct, laying bare the latent racism that plagues us all. Exposed and shamed nationwide, Ms. Cooper offered an apology for her behavior which Christian Cooper graciously accepted in an interview on ABC’s “The View”, saying: “I think she’s got to do some reflection on what happened, because up until she made that call, it was just a conflict between a bird-watcher and a dog-walker. Then she took it to a very dark place, and I think she’s got to examine why and how that happened. And I want to move it a little bit beyond her, because this is not really about her poor judgement in a snap-second, it’s about the underlying current of racism and racial perceptions that has been going on for centuries and that permeates this city and this country, that she tapped into. That’s what we really have to address. Why are we still plagued with that and how do we fix it?”
Host Whoopie Goldberg concluded the ABC interview saying, “Maybe this will all make a better person (of Amy Cooper) and maybe it starts with one person at a time.” Grappling with racism is no longer a maybe, it’s a MUST. Every individual must be willing to contemplate the “dark place” which lurks within the human heart, the seething volcano of primitive drives and fears that Jung calls, “the shadow” and to which no human psyche is immune. Each man and woman must willingly question his or her conditioning: what remnants of entitlement and superiority lurk within, shielding primal terrors? Do we feel more fear when encountering a lone black man on a deserted street than if he were white? Do we fear a man in a hoodie and trust a man in a suit? Do we adhere to a belief in lack which whispers that if another gets his fair share, there won’t be enough for me? Our ancestral program of survival has produced a “culture” which glorifies insatiable greed. We have polluted our earthly garden, and it runs rampant with the poisonous weeds of racism, exclusion, and exploitation. We urgently need to face our secret, subconscious, prejudices, to extirpate the deep-rooted fear, distrust and hatred of the OTHER. It’s time to question our toxic belief in separateness.
In the Cooper-Cooper exchange, I find the fact that both protagonists share the same last name highly symbolic. This synchronicity points to our underlying oneness, the core teaching of all spiritual traditions. From the sages of the Hindu Advaitic school of non-duality to the Christian and Sufi mystics, the affirmation is the same: Consciousness is “One without a second” and we are That. Inseparability and interdependence are also confirmed by the mind-boggling discoveries of quantum physics, which posit a unified field of energy underlying all forms of being. It is also significant that Mr. Cooper’s first name is “Christian”, though the Christian Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, is espoused by all wisdom traditions. When one is open to the possibility that the Other is truly one’s Self, in a mysterious, fundamental, unity despite all apparent differences, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the only logical course of action.
Collectively, we must open our eyes to the countless, abhorrent, racial crimes committed with impunity since the founding of this country. The “Land of the Free” is a fiction whose prosperity was built on slavery and the extermination of millions of native Americans. Sadly, tragically, racial brutality is so endemic to our society that, up until a week ago, we seemed collectively anaesthetized, accepting rank atrocities as inevitable givens in a systemic status-quo. The same paralyzing impotence poisons the fire-arms issue. At last, people from all walks of life are uniting in a resounding STOP.
The challenge now is to massively adhere to the principles of non-violence that inspired Doctor King and Mahatma Gandhi. Sustained, non-violent protest brought the British colonial empire to its knees. China, the world’s second economic power, is publicly gloating over the American unrest. The totalitarian Chinese regime boastfully squelches all opposition with the military violence it turned upon the peaceful protestors in Tian An Men Square. Now Donald Trump threatens to call out the army against the American people. What will it take to hear the voices of the homeless, of the hopeless? How many lives will be shattered before we open our collective eyes to the violence of an economic system that places profit before human dignity, before the integrity and beauty of nature and the right to a decent life? While the world watches, our democracy, the authentic American dream, is at stake. When all our voices unite as one, non-violent civil resistance could make America, and the world, great again.
Here is a link to King’s civil-rights anthem, “We shall overcome”, in a magnificent rendition by The Oakwood University Aeolians alumni, sung online during confinement in April 2020.
Let us sing it in unison until every life on this beautiful planet, including our animal and plant siblings, may flourish in peace and harmony.