A MESSAGE TO AMERICA'S YOUTH:
A UNIFIED CALL FOR CHANGE
BY DOMINIC CHIAPPONE
June 12, 2020
To The United States of America's Youth,
Currently, the United States looks like something straight out of The Walking Dead. There are police cars on fire, windows of various houses and businesses being shattered, violent clashes between police and activists, people stealing items and goods from Target of all places, demonstrators and police tossing tear gas at each other like they’re playing dodgeball, huge crowds of protestors taking to the streets in anger, helicopters patrolling the skies like they are on a manhunt for the ghost of Ted Bundy, and journalists being arrested or shot with rubber bullets like the police are at target practice. All of this, of course, being overshadowed by the Coronavirus (yes, this is still a thing), the subsequent economic and social ramifications, and a complete end to any sense of normalcy that we had pre-pandemic. Minus the zombies, it clearly looks as if the world is ending!
When the video surfaced of George Floyd (a black man) being pinned down by multiple white police officers, including one who had his entire knee on his neck, I couldn’t do anything but stare in disbelief. I felt helpless. I couldn’t yell at the officers in the video to stop nor could I teleport myself to Minnesota for just a couple seconds and try to save Mr. Floyd in that moment. All I could do was look at George on the television as he whispered those final words before he was tragically murdered in broad daylight: “I can’t breathe.”
This situation wasn’t just an anomaly or some exception to the rule. The tragic death of George Floyd is just a microcosm of an entire 400-year history (and counting) of mistreating, beating, hurting, torturing, and murdering innocent Americans of color. As somebody who has always had a passion for history, especially that of the United States, I understand that America was built upon the evils of slavery, racism, and inequality. Our nation’s earliest ancestors accumulated mass amounts of wealth at the expense of forcing African Americans to work grueling hours under even more grueling conditions, all without getting paid a penny for their work. Families would be completely torn apart, slaves would be subject to cruel treatment and unfair punishments, and they were helpless in trying to revolt from their masters. Our founding fathers fought an entire war to form a new nation founded upon the ideals of everybody being equal and being “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is safe to say that black people, both then and now, have continued to suffer in a country systematically built to not provide them with an access to a full life, full liberty, and full happiness.
"The tragic death of George Floyd is just a microcosm of an entire 400-year history (and counting) of mistreating, beating, hurting, torturing, and murdering innocent Americans of color."
Racism has always been America’s biggest wound. It has plagued our nation before, during, and after declaring independence from Britain. It has been present under the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. It was a problem under the leadership of George Washington; it continues to remain so under the rule of Donald Trump. It has led to bone-heading decisions such as legalizing segregation under a flawed “separate but equal” banner all the way to systematically creating a network of political and social infrastructures designed to disproportionately treat black people as inferior, sub-par, and non-humans. It resulted in the creation of “black codes” and “Jim Crow laws” designed to subside the effects of the American Civil War. It fueled an entire culture of using science to “prove” that the white race was the most dominant race, or the black people were nothing but “barbaric savages” that couldn’t run a government, educate our youth, or learn how to lead a nation. It led to the rise of hate-groups and organizations built on the intent of continuing to mistreat African-Americans and who are hell-bent on using hate as a means to divide America. And lastly, it has been the source of all the disparity in racial treatment, economic opportunity, and social standing that we see in modern times. Even at this very moment, we still see the devastating consequences of decisions made by the politicians and leaders of many years ago.
"Racism has always been America’s biggest wound...it has been the source of all the disparity in racial treatment, economic opportunity, and social standing that we see in modern times."
With all this history and knowledge of America’s past, I am put at a crossroads. In my life, I get criticized for a lot of things: for my laugh sounding like a hyena that drank a couple Red Bulls before it heard the joke, for my body having the structure of a twig about to be used in a campfire, for my eating habits as that of Winnie the Pooh or that kid from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for my nose “making up” half of my face, and for my hair looking like it could’ve found it on sale at a Dollar Store. This is all nothing more than teenage banter.
However, on a more serious note, what I have never been criticized for is the color of my skin. I’m not black but rather part-Latino, part-white. I’ve never been subject to an unfair arrest, a racial slur, a violent action, a beating, a lynching, or anything of the sort. I am less likely to be arrested by police, or be discriminated against in the workforce, or suffer from poverty, or be underpaid for my work, or be sent in jail under some false charge. I have lived all of my life in the “bubble-city” in Miami in which I am not truly exposed to the effects of racism or inequality. In comparison to the lives of African-Americans struggling to make ends meet or dealing with the continued discrimination on almost all fronts, my life has been drastically different from that of an everyday black individual in America.
"Solving racism requires help from people of all walks of life...it is a wound that requires one large bandage, not a series of smaller ones."
But on the other hand, solving racism requires help from people of all walks of life. It is certainly a big wound that has to be healed in order to truly promote the ideals that our government has been founded upon. It is a wound that requires one large bandage, not a series of smaller ones. It requires the efforts of everybody from a scrawny white dude from Miami like me to everybody in this country. Just like how it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire community to combat hate in order to love each other. Love doesn’t care whether your skin color is black, white, purple, or gold; it doesn’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican, communist or conspirator, rich or poor, tall or short, male or female; it doesn’t mind if you’ve lived an immaculate life or one defined by struggle and addiction. Love unifies, not divides. Love is simply just that: love. It’s a powerful tool, ingrained in each and every one of us. If mastered, it can be a unifying force in a world that wants to constantly divide itself or tear each other apart.
Eliminating racism and ensuring racial equality isn’t some idealist, utopian, Thomas More-type of plan. It isn’t something that could only occur in some “religious paradise” or The Wizard of Oz. It can be achieved. After all, anything is possible! But it requires the will and determination of everybody in this country. I need to play my part, everybody I know needs to play their part, and the whole country needs to play their part. Ending the evils of racism and hate in this nation will require a unified promotion of a new society built on inclusion, diversity, and equality. It requires actions, not only words. As a high school teacher of mine once famously stated: Faith without action is dead. Similarly, a movement that can only talk the talk but doesn’t walk the walk is worthless. Posting hashtags, appreciation posts, and other things of the sort can only get you so far: this is merely just the first step in the long road toward overcoming racism and ensuring equality for all.
Ending the evils of racism and hate in this nation will require a unified promotion of a new society built on inclusion, diversity, and equality. It requires actions, not only words.
Our country needs to pack a bigger punch in fighting hate. And luckily for us American citizens, we live in a democracy. This isn’t communist Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Mao’s China, or post-revolution Iran. Rather, this is the United States of America. We are supposed to be united: it’s in our name for God’s sake! And under such a banner, we have certain rights and privileges that we can use to better ourselves, our fellow Americans, and our country as a whole. Use them! Go out and use the rights of free speech, protest, and petition to ask for a change in how this nation treats African Americans. Vote for individuals at the local, state, and national levels who actually have plans that can combat racism through police reform, increased economic opportunity for black Americans, and laws that prevent the mistreatment of colored people in the United States and in hopes of making this country one that promotes uniting instead of dividing.
Whether you like it or not, history is currently in the making in the United States. The snowball has already fallen down the mountain and will only continue to grow and grow. I cannot make any decision for you: only you can decide how you wanna involve yourself in this current situation. Are you gonna be somebody that wants to keep the status quo or deny the problem of racism, or rather be on the side that changed America for the better? Are you gonna sit this one out or become more involved? Simply put, which side of history do you wanna be on when we remember this moment many years later: the difference-makers or the do-nothings? I’m gonna stand on the side of history that wants to progress forward with action and change, and absolutely nothing will ever change my mind. For the people that think differently or choose to sit back and watch all of this unfold, just remember this: doing nothing doesn’t make you a culprit for the problem, but it does make you become part of the problem.
"Doing nothing doesn’t make you a culprit for the problem, but it does make you become part of the problem."
Let George Floyd’s death not be for nothing. Let it not turn into another hashtag or social media post. Let it not become another reminder of what we failed to do as a country. Let his death and his name be a symbolic step on the path toward promoting equality, inclusion, and love. That process all starts with you, America’s youth. Collectively, you are the light that can be seen at the end of a dark tunnel, the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae, the closing act in a fantastic play, the final scene in an award-winning movie, and the game-winning shot in a competitive basketball game. You will be the ones that determine the correct course of action for how we fix this country. You are the innovators and the masterminds for change. You are America’s only hope, and we need you now more than ever. As the saying famously goes: “If not now, when? And if not you, who?”