I Can’t Breathe

In Emotional Health by Josh1 Comment

Forward

I wrote this 2 nights ago. I had my finger on the “publish” button, and I decided to save it as a draft. I wanted to let it percolate in my brain for a bit. Since the initial draft, I’ve added a few things based on some posts I’ve read, and I’ve made a few edits. My mom has always accused me of being overly politically correct, maybe to the point of fault. I’m not a person who fears confrontation, nor do I necessarily actively avoid it. I do try not to initiate conflicts and confrontations, though. Part of that process includes steering clear of hot button topics unless I’m in the appropriate setting to have the conversation. I don’t talk about religion, politics, sexuality, race issues, and other potentially controversial topics at work or in a public forum. I want to be able to control my message so that it doesn’t risk getting misunderstood or misconstrued. I also want to have an opportunity to respond and have a dialogue with whoever I’m speaking with about the topic at hand. I enjoy gaining additional perspectives to help me create an informed opinion.

This post is a long way outside of my comfort zone. I don’t feel comfortable sharing these thoughts publicly, not knowing who is reading them and how they may react. This isn’t about my comfort, though. I’ve been comfortable for far too long. These thoughts are weighing heavily on me, so I’ve got to get some things off my chest.

Post

I believe that humans are inherently good. I think it goes against our nature to have hearts filled with hatred. I’m willing to engage in a conversation about dissociative conditions creating exceptions to this, but that’s a different topic. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume I’m talking about people of sound body and mind.

I am overweight. I haven’t always been, but I have been for a number of years. Medically, at around 300 pounds, I am considered obese. I am aware, intellectually, that I should do something about it. I’d like to do something about it for health reasons, and for aesthetic reasons. I’d like to be more comfortable shopping for clothes, going to the pool or beach, tying my shoes, playing a game of basketball, and looking at myself in the mirror. I make conscious choices every day, though, in the foods I eat and my daily activities that do not align with a goal of losing weight. It hasn’t become important enough to me to make the lifestyle choices that are necessary to constitute real, lasting change.

I have a daughter that just turned 4, and she does not see me as overweight. She can observe that Daddy has a big tummy, and she’s pointed that out before. But she does not judge me for the way I look. She sees me as her loving father, or as she’s been referring to me lately, as her “best buddy.” She hasn’t learned yet that there are negative societal stigmas around people who don’t look “normal.” People who are over- or underweight, are extremely short or tall, don’t have perfect complexions, have unusual birthmarks, strange hair, etc. are different, and different is bad in the eyes of society. As she gets older and continues to more keenly observe the world around her, her opinions about these types of things will begin to take shape. She’ll learn from her experiences, and everything will influence her.

I remember picking her up from daycare about 8 or 9 months ago, and I heard two boys from her class making fun of me. One boy said to the other: “Look how fat he is!” and pointed at me. They both laughed. I didn’t take offense – they’re 3 years old and I know I need to lose weight. It did stick out to me, though, that at such an early age they were already judging people based on their appearance. I couldn’t help wondering where they learned that. That certainly wasn’t a thought that they would have had as babies… At some point in their young lives, they have seen a parent, teacher, sibling, or someone on TV or the Internet or elsewhere, display this sort of bias, and they’re emulating it. They’re learning to be members of society as they grow up, and the ones who came before them have a responsibility to teach them to be good, empathetic, contributing members of society.

I tell myself during moments of self-reflection that I’m going to take control of my health. I’m going to lose weight and enjoy the way I look without a shirt on. At different times, I’ve had moderate levels of success. Just last year I managed to lose 40 pounds in about 6 months, only to gain it back later. I guess I just haven’t had that wake-up moment where a health crisis or some form of humiliation has caused me to take it seriously enough for me to really choose to make permanent, lasting change. I do have a choice, though. If I don’t want to be judged by others, I don’t have to try to change them. I could stop drinking beer (gout sucks, by the way!) and energy drinks, stop eating fast food 5+ times per week and get even a moderate amount of legitimate exercise a few times a week, and within a relatively short amount of time, I would probably fit society’s mold of being an average height, average weight white guy with a lovely family, a lovely job, a lovely house, and a lovely life.

How lucky am I that it’s so easy for me to just make a couple of minor tweaks and I can avoid the snickering whispers from my daughter’s classmates as I pick her up from school? How fortunate am I that my biggest problems in life are so easy to fix?

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery didn’t have those types of choices. They were black, and they were killed by people who learned throughout their lives, experiences, and influences to be racists. My heart breaks for their families, and for so many people of color who have to fear going out to put gas in their car, driving home from work, or performing any other mundane task that I take for granted every single day. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too.

I saw my friend Kelley post an absolute gut-punch about her young son being choked, with pressure on his neck as people around him yell that he can’t breathe. The reality of the situation is that it wasn’t actually her son who was being choked, but it very well could have been. That’s what she sees in her mind when things like this happen. My friend Damon opened his post with a hashtag, #JusticeForDamon, and he posed the possibility of that being the next hashtag I see after his life has been stripped away by a rogue police officer. My friend Ronnie is mad, and rightfully so! He said: “hate is taught and learned and the reason that it still exists today is because the majority allows it to remain.”

I’m embarrassed to be part of that majority. Kelley, Damon, and Ronnie are just three of many of my friends who are speaking out about their need for basic human rights. They believe, like I do, that all human beings are born free and equal in basic human dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person, and that right is being taken away from them by systemic racism.

I’ll take a moment to call myself out on my privilege. The first time I saw the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, I immediately thought to myself “Of course they do, but why should we just call out black lives? All lives matter.” I didn’t understand. I was fortunate enough to have grown up in a family that taught me to love everyone. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world. I sang that song hundreds of times as a child. When I met someone who was a racist or a bigot growing up, I chalked them up as a bad apple. I believed that most people weren’t like that, and we were decades past the era of institutional racism. Everyone has the ability to control their own destiny, they just need to work hard and practice The Golden Rule.

Frankly, I was wrong. There is deeply seeded hate and prejudice in this country. I mentioned Ronnie earlier, and he also said this: “We are allowed to entertain the masses or contribute our creativity to solve societal issues but when we question why our liberty is being taken from us we are seen as a danger.”

I hate that people I care about have to teach their children how to prepare for situations where they’re going to be treated unfairly and how to act in those situations to hopefully minimize the risk of them being unjustly arrested or killed. I absolutely support law and order. I support law enforcement officials who are serving their communities and keeping those community members safe. I do not support people who are in positions of power abusing that power to oppress those they are supposed to serve.

My call to action for myself is to do my best every single day to treat other humans the way I would want to be treated and to teach my children (along with anyone else who falls within my sphere of influence) to do the same. If you’re reading this, then there are people in this world that you influence in one way or another. Your actions, whether public or behind closed doors have an impact on this world. It is imperative that you recognize when your children, peers, or even your parents and other family members are displaying prejudice, and correct them. Teach people to be better.

Comments

  1. Yes! Thank you Josh. Hopefully MOST people feel just like you do! There is definitely a problem with bigotry and racism in our country AND world, and we SHOULD open our eyes to it and do everything we CAN to fight against it! I remember as a child that my Dad’s parents, my paternal Grand-parents, would sometimes make jokes or say very racist things at times, and I remember that SEVERAL times, even as a young kid, I would embarrass them by questioning and/or telling them that this was wrong. I STILL want to be a person who will be brave enough to speak out against it anytime and anywhere! We CANNOT bury our heads in the sand and pretend that this VEAY REAL PROBLEM does not exist!

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