“We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” — Oprah Winfrey
Confederate statues are coming down. Quaker Oats is dropping Aunt Jemima from its maple syrup. Even the new streaming service, HBO Max, has withdrawn, for the time being, the 1939 film, Gone with the Wind, due to its racist depictions.
From appearances, the country is finally catching up with what it should have caught up with decades ago after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“Life is forever changing,” Rev. Gaylon McDowell writes, “and no matter how hard people want some things to stay the same, changes happen.”
However, some of us still resist change.
Although Juneteenth may have ended slavery, it didn’t change segregation. When integration became the law of the land, it didn’t end bigotry. While black Americans are legally accorded the same rights and privileges as white Americans, discrimination and hate continue to lie beneath the surface.
“Human consciousness fears what it cannot control,” McDowell said. “Anything different from the norm is scary to the preservation of the alleged status quo.”
And there’s been plenty of status quo out there, until now… maybe.
We’ve seen police brutality and killings of black Americans before, but few of us have seen, up close, what happened to George Floyd when a white police officer choked the life out of him. Many of the horrifying images that were only chronicled by eyewitnesses of past atrocities are now recorded on cell phones for all to see and judge for themselves. And in the case of George Floyd, that judgment is clear.
However, after the outrage, the angry protests and violence, the question remains: where do we go from here?
You can ban public symbols of Confederacy, but it’s hard to change what many see as a fundamental symbol of white entitlement. You can change police policies and methods and blunt racism nationwide, but it’s difficult to change what lies within hearts and minds.
While there are many paths to meaningful change, one course is to educate and inspire the next generation of hearts and minds about the intrinsic value of universal ethical principles, especially the value of respect. In classrooms and communities, we need to promote the idea that all us should be “active participants in a diverse society,” to quote the Southern Poverty Law Center.
We need to model behavior that affirms that justice, equity, due process, openness, and consistency are important hallmarks of a Constitution that stands for and by everyone.
Communities need to demonstrate that peaceful protest is a better tool for change, and that acceptance of individual differences is a better way of living than living in the shadow of division and hate.
Oprah Winfrey’s quote speaks powerfully to the issue before us.
“We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”
“We cannot become…” expresses what we aspire to be as individuals striving to act out of the principles of honesty, respect, responsibility not only to our families and friends but to each other.
“…what we need to be…” we need to end intolerance and ensure social justice. As Dr. King made clear, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” We need to focus on unity to build a better, stronger America by living in harmony with each other.
“…by remaining what we are.” Change is inevitable. We need to move through our fears and embrace change, evolution and progress.
Seventieth century English poet, John Donne wrote, “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of a Continent, a part of the main.”
Maybe this time we can move out of the shadow of the status quo.
Maybe this time we can turn the page as we transform our lives from what we are to what we need to be because we are all part of the main.