I was floating in the heated pool at the Sun Valley Lodge when I heard protesters in the parking lot shout, “Black lives matter!! Black lives matter!!” The irony of this situation was not lost on me. And yes, I felt some “white guilt.” In my defense, my stay at the Lodge was a birthday present from my husband. How many people, especially poor minorities, can afford to stay at a resort?
But, as George Floyd’s death demonstrates, money and what money buys is apparently not the biggest issue for black men, staying alive on the streets of America is.
When I got out of the pool I visited with a family, an older man, his wife, and their daughter vacationing at the resort too. They told me they saw the protesters, about 70 people, almost all of them white, like us. I wasn’t surprised by this demographic, since it was Sun Valley, Idaho. They said the crowd at one point knelt, in a show of solidarity with African-Americans battling institutional racism. The teenage daughter of this couple told me she joined the protesters in taking a knee.
“I’m sorry,” her mother began, frustrated and looking at me for some kind of support, “but don’t ALL lives matter?”
“Mom,” the daughter moaned, “you just don’t get it.”
“What don’t I get? What don’t I get?” she repeated, her head whipping back and forth between her daughter and me.
I was dripping on my pool towel and getting a little chilly. The mother said she’d read in the Wall Street Journal that much of the crime committed in America today was perpetrated by minority men, especially black men.
“No wonder the police profile,” she glanced at me smugly while her daughter stared stonily into space. Her husband seemed unusually preoccupied with the mountain scenery.
Did I want to step into this cauldron of family drama with my own, no doubt provocative thoughts? No. I just wanted to dry off and enjoy the rest of my birthday present at the Lodge. The world has a way though, of pulling you in. You can’t bury your head in a bath towel for long. And besides, I thought the daughter needed to know someone was in her corner.
“I think,” I began hesitantly, “‘Black lives matter’ underlines or puts an exclamation point on ‘All lives matter.’” What I mean is, there’s racial injustice in America, and tragically, not all lives do matter.”
The daughter looked hopeful and nodded her head vigorously. The mother looked chastised, so I threw her a bone. “Some people feel like you do, that the police are justified in racial profiling. But stereotyping, having preconceived ideas about a whole race of people, is racism, pure and simple. And there’s no excuse for police bullying or brutality.”
I mentioned that we can see bigotry and racism at work when African Americans make up only a small portion of the population (I later found out 13%), and yet comprise the majority of those wrongfully convicted. According to sentencingproject.org, black men are five times more likely to go to state prisons than whites, and where George Floyd lived, Minnesota, ten times more likely. I thought about turning the tables on the mother by asking how she’d feel being profiled for staying at this spendy and exclusive resort while the rest of America struggles with unemployment due to Covid-19. But then I’d be speaking my own issue.
The mother sat thoughtful for a moment, and finally said, “I don’t know too much about the number of innocent black men in prison. I guess I haven’t read anything about it.”
“That’s what these protests are about mom!” the daughter cried plaintively. “They’re about awareness! Waking people up to what’s going on!”
I could tell this discussion would continue for a while, and I was beginning to shiver, I was so wet and cold. I finally said my goodbyes and padded barefoot to the locker rooms. As I walked away though, I couldn’t help but smile. That daughter, she was what America would become, the next generation–and suddenly the future didn’t seem so bleak.