Choosing Empathy Over Duality
As I sat in a group of my peers a couple of days ago, the topic of our country’s current events came up. Specifically, the topic of the murder of George Floyd, and the systemic racism that has plagued this country for… well, forever. We ranted and raged, and expressed our anger and fear for the people of color in our country. We tried to imagine how it would feel to suffer the way George Floyd did, and came to the conclusion that we can’t even begin to feel the pain, fear and betrayal he must have gone through. We empathized with his family members who must be imagining the horrible scene over and over again. We empathized with the family members of black males who have to wonder every day if their son or brother will be killed today if he happens to commit a petty crime, OR simply for sitting in his own vehicle, or asking for help from a white person. My heart sunk.
As the conversation continued, my mind trailed off somewhat, and my scope of anger and fear expanded. First, my mind went to the law enforcement officers who have been set up to be demonized by the public at large again and again, the good, caring officers who have been shot and killed at “routine” traffic stops as a form of retaliation for what evil has done while wearing their same uniform, and to their family members who have to watch them leave the house in that uniform every day, knowing they could be a victim of that retaliation at any moment. My heart sunk.
Then, my mind went to residents and small business owners in Minneapolis (and now other cities across the country), who’s livelihoods have been shattered during rioting. Their apartments have been set on fire, some with pets left inside. Their businesses have been looted, set on fire, windows shattered, and altogether left unrecognizable. Some of these businesses were the place of hope where these people put the last of their money, along with their heart and their passion. Again, my heart sunk.
Lastly, my heart sunk for peaceful protestors, who, like peaceful police, have now been set up to be demonized by the public because of what violent rioters have done.
I didn’t dare mention my empathy for police officers or business owners in this conversation. As the overall mentality in this country dictates, if I feel sad or angry for police officers and their families who’ve lost a loved one to senseless retaliation, I cannot feel those same things for people of color. If I feel the despair and anguish for residents in Minneapolis who have lost their homes, pets and businesses, I cannot feel the despair and anguish for the family of a black man who lost their son to a racist monster and a broken system.
Later, the more I thought about this, the more I wished I had said something. This mentality of duality needs to be shattered. It is untrue, unfair, and dangerous. Feeling for one group of people does not mean you cannot feel for the “other”. Believing that #blacklivesmatter does not mean that you sympathize with #fuckthepolice. Believing there are good and honorable police officers in the world does not mean that you don’t believe and feel for the victims of racist and corrupt officers. You are allowed to feel empathy for all parties. You are not broken if you do. You are not racist if you do. You are not police-hating if you do. You are human. What people need right now, is not for me to be quiet and complacent for the sake of keeping peace. What people on all sides need right now is to be told that they are seen, that they matter, that their feelings are valid, that THEY are valid.
To people of color:
Your life is important. Your life matters. You shouldn’t have to convince the world that you are worthy of staying alive. You don’t deserve to feel like a target walking down the street. You don’t deserve to suffer and mourn the senseless violence and murders of your brothers and sisters at the hands of a broken system and the monsters who use it to their advantage. You shouldn’t have to wonder why people simply stand by and let your suffering happen. I cannot imagine the fear, anxiety, and litany of possible outcomes that must run through your mind when you or a loved one encounter a police officer. Your fear is valid and understandable. I see you. I believe you. I’m sorry.
To good cops:
I know that you exist. I know that the actions of corrupt officers do not speak to your mission, mindset, and goals in your occupation. I know that you are not a part of the evil that has come before you and chosen to misuse the power of your badge. I know you’ve lost honorable brothers and sisters simply for wearing the uniform that you do. They did not deserve to die as a means of retaliation. You do not deserve to mourn their senseless deaths. The fact that you continue to put on your uniform and work towards good in your community, despite the unwarranted backlash and blame coming your way, is commendable and brave. I can’t imagine the fear and anxiety you must feel each and every time you respond to a call. Your fear is valid and understandable. I see you. I believe you. Thank you.
What you are doing is important. It is not going unnoticed. Extreme action drives extreme change, and the world would never change without people like you, willing to take extreme action. I see you. We all see you, even those who are trying to ignore you or villainize you. Keep going.
To residents of Minneapolis who have lost any or all of their livelihood this past week:
You are not forgotten. You are allowed to mourn the loss of your home or business. Feeling angry with or afraid of rioters does not mean you side with racism or bigotry. You are being victimized, and you are allowed to seek help. I see you. I’m sorry.
To anyone who believes they can oppress, torture, or kill other humans, regardless of your race, gender, class, or occupation:
Go fuck yourselves.
Prezley Shry is fueled by many passions – chief among them is writing, signature cocktails, and yoga. Yoga keeps her grounded as she navigates her current roles in life. Her intention is to bring this same grounding to her students through a dynamic practice that is both bold and peaceful, disciplined and fun. Meet her on your mat to find balance and push your limits at the same time. She’ll be so glad if you show up! Follow her on Instagram at @yogi_prez, and check out some of her other writing at hollyhockyoga.com