Something is sitting in the pit of my stomach. Something in my heart that isn’t entirely hardened by tragedies and violence is stirring.
At first, I read the news out of Buffalo with the eye of an American who is used to mass shootings. I moved on through my day, only to come back later to my newsfeed as details emerged, forcing myself to consume the gravity of the situation and not look away. It’s taken a few days to process what was making me feel so physically ill about this particular brand of racist violence.
I knew the shooter was white instantly because he was apprehended alive. This is the mental shortcut many of us in America instinctually employ. We live in a country whose White Supremacy culture is so ingrained that we’ve all come to accept this is the way the story unravels. This alone was enough to make me sick, but it is a sickness I am accustomed to. I knew there was something more.
I grew up in a grocery store. My mom was a cashier, and I spent countless afternoons doing my homework in a perch above the store, watching life go on beneath me, learning the intricacies of the human experience by surreptitiously spying on shoppers as they went about their day. When I read about the victims, I remembered that grocery store childhood. That store was my safe place. But, this could not explain the deeper sadness that was inside me.
No. There was more there.
It was a line in a New York Times story that stopped me cold.
The terrorist who perpetrated this violence used Zip Code data to identify a neighborhood with a high concentration of Black people.
The terrorist used the same data my customers use to do good to do evil.
Every day, I work to break down barriers to data so changemakers can keep equity at the center. A data-driven act of terrorism has never been on my radar. I’ve never stopped to think that some monster out there would use demographic data to plot murder.
Suddenly, everything I wanted to say this week — after coming home from an event focusing on racism and health equity — seemed tainted by this avoidable tragedy. I felt defeated and disgusted. I had left the event on fire for the power of disaggregated data to elevate stories of hope. Now, I was sitting there staring at maps and crying.
We are a country built on a legacy of exclusion. We should be ashamed that our policies have created segregated communities with near-linear correlations between race, wealth, and health. And yet, we continue to turn away and accept that this is the way of the world. Another day, another list of Black and Brown victims.
I am not Black. I can’t begin to imagine the exhaustion of witnessing violence against people who look like me nearly every weekend, only to have to come back to work on a Monday and go about your life. The mental gymnastics of that kind of compartmentalizing wears away at your soul, and physically weakens your body and mind. I have no answers for that, except we all have to keep fighting.
I may not have all the solutions, but I do have a deep hope that love will win in the end. I have the honor of serving leaders all over the country who wake up every day with justice in their bones ready to dismantle White Supremacy and make right what is so wrong in the world. I have faith that one day fear will not prevail, and our country will become a true place of opportunity. I know there is a day coming when your Zip Code won’t predict the length of your life.
They say every good article ends with a call to action. Mine is simple — pray and act. Pray for the victims, their families, and their neighborhood. Then, do something. Donate to organizations working to get food to a neighborhood that has lost its only grocery store. Dig into Anti-Racist literature. Ask how your workplace is supporting the mental health of Black employees. And most of all, refuse to accept that domestic terrorism is normal.
Those of us with privilege afforded that we did not earn can not take a break. We can not choose to look away, even if it hurts.