- Coming together as engaged and thoughtful Americans is the only way for our country to heal.
On May 25 around 8 p.m., a deli employee called 911, accusing George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, of buying cigarettes with a fake $20 bill. Minneapolis police officials arrived on the scene, and by 8:20 p.m Floyd was on the ground, handcuffed, with Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee pinned against his neck. More than eight minutes later, Chauvin’s knee had not moved, despite the fact that Floyd had become unconscious minutes earlier.
At 9:25 p.m. Floyd was declared dead at Hennepin County Medical Center.
His last words of “I can’t breathe,” continue to echo in the minds of all who saw the raw killing replay on video, compelling many to join the protests happening throughout the entire nation.
As the country continues to deal with a virus that has taken more than 100,000 lives in just a few months, the senseless death of George Floyd, as well as the many before him, is a stark reminder of the other viruses that have plagued the nation for far too long and can no longer be ignored: racism and police brutality.
Human beings were forcefully shipped from Africa to America, bought and sold as property for upwards of 200 years. Even after winning their freedom, they continued to be oppressed through institutions and systems constructed on racist ideas.
Black Americans, according to data of all police killings in the country compiled by Mapping Police Violence, were almost three times more likely to be killed by police than white American’s were in 2019. The data also found that although only 13 percent of the U.S. population is black, 24 percent of all police killings were of black Americans.
The imbalance is glaring and is in desperate need of leveling. Hinduism teaches a number of universal ideals — including ahimsa (compassion and non-harming), satya (truth), viveka (discernment) and dharma (selflessness and righteousness), that are as important to remember now as, perhaps, they have ever been.
All of these lessons are based on the Vedas’ and Bhagavad Gita’s foundational principle that we are all souls. All of us are connected by a shared divinity.
Materialism and Social Friction
Unfortunately, this connection is too often fogged by the false ego, or false sense of self. Overly identifying with the temporary nature of the material world can cause friction between person to person, family to family, state to state, or nation to nation. This false sense of self is a product of ignorance, and this ignorance can lead to fear, because people often fear what they don’t understand. Fear can lead to hate and hate is a cause of violence. This violence will only fuel a cycle of destruction, debasing human beings to their most tribalistic tendencies.
By understanding that everyone and everything is connected in spirit, however, this ignorance can be dispelled and a commonality can be found between all people. As a result, compassion can naturally guide one’s moral compass, and discernment and selflessness can be exercised in how we interact with others.
Practicing these virtues makes one wise, compelling us, not only to listen, but to stand for what’s just.
The country needs healing, and this can only be done by coming together as engaged and thoughtful Americans. Voices should speak out for those who are suffering, helping hands must be offered to hardest-hit communities, and elected officials ought to be pushed to enact enduring solutions.
As every tree must be green for a forest to be green, the growth of every individual is necessary for the betterment of society.
Acknowledging racism actually exists throughout our varied communities, we can practice being more mindful, making conscious daily efforts to combat our own inherent biases.
If we come to realize that we do not have a very diverse group of friends, for example, perhaps we can endeavor to meet and get to know people from other walks of life. Understanding who someone is as an individual can dissipate preconceived notions based on group identities.
In a 2017 study published in the journal Child Development, UCLA researchers found students in middle schools, with multiple ethnic groups of comparatively similar size, to report more tolerance and less prejudice amongst peers of multiple ethnicities.
Recognizing the reality of racism also opens the door to more conversations. In any issue, communication is key in working towards positive and viable solutions. Through communication, not only can humans of all races better understand one another, but so can those of all ages. By bridging the age divide, an older generation can understand why many young people have lost faith in much of America’s institutions, and a younger generation can gain wisdom from their elders, many of whom have witnessed historic systemic change.
Attaining Racial Justice
Volunteering time or resources to the work of the NAACP, a civil rights organization working to attain racial justice for citizens in urban communities, is also a great way to not only help, but also better comprehend the struggles of African Americans.
In addition, calling upon elected leadership at not just the federal, but also state level, can help to affect institutional change. “Politics is local,” as the saying goes. Sheriff’s, in general, are elected by the people, while chiefs of police are usually appointed by mayors, who are also elected by the people. By voting, we can influence how our local police departments are run.
Fortunately, hope for the future can be drawn from past examples of African American and Indian-Hindu friendship, cooperation, and philosophical exchange.
Booker T. Washington’s and Henry David Thoreau’s ideas on civil disobedience and self-empowerment helped to influence Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha, or policy of passive political resistance. In turn, Gandhi’s success in attaining India’s independence had a profound influence on Martin Luther King Jr. and the American civil rights movement.
For where there have been great injustices, there have always been great personalities who have risen up against such injustices, inspiring people of all backgrounds to rise with them.
Working together with a dedicated commitment to shared principles has paved the way for struggling communities in the past, and it can surely pave the way for the future.
Suhag Shukla is executive director, legal counsel, and cofounder of the Hindu American Foundation.