On May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 46-year-old African American George Floyd died after police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee across Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd was an unemployed club bouncer with heart disease, arrested by Chauvin for allegedly purchasing cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill.
Chauvin has since been charged with 2nd-degree murder. The three other officers complicit at the scene were charged with 2nd-degree manslaughter. All this transpired during the COVID-19 pandemic and the shelter-in-place protocol. A public outcry arose over the racial injustice of the George Floyd murder. Tragically, both peaceful protests and violent riots occurred throughout the United States and around the world.
The George Floyd murder by police officers represented the tipping point of centuries of racial oppression and injustice against the Black Community. I’m not Black, nor am I White; I’m Japanese American. I have personal empathy for enduring racial stereotypes and labels.
Frank Edwards, Hedwig Lee, and Michael Esposito published Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race-ethnicity, and sex in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), August 20, 2019. In the PNAS paper, they wrote:
Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States. Over the life course about 1 in every 1000 black men can expect to be killed by police.
Therefore, the likelihood of a black man being killed by police is 2.5 times higher than non-Hispanic white men. George Floyd’s murder is emblematic of this disheartening statistic.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s injustice, members of all ethnic communities raised their voices, called for changes in the police use of force and law enforcement. Clearly, something needs to be done. We’re talking about justice system reform, possible hate crime statutes instituted, retraining of police force, possibly reducing police force funding to reallocate resources, and far-reaching legislative reform.
Diverse communities expressed themselves and called for action that may further constructive conversation in the evolution of a new order. Regression back to the ‘old’ normal is simply unacceptable. Perhaps, this community-driven expression and the call against racial injustice has inspired positive action moving forward in everyone’s best interest. That’s what’s being said.
What about in the unsaid? What makes a difference in the unsaid, in the action taken behind the scenes? After all, action does speak louder than words at times. Just saying.
In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, 3-time NBA Champion Lebron James formed the voter rights advocacy group More Than a Vote, which plays off his company More Than an Athlete. More Than a Vote combats voter suppression of minorities. In the recent elections in Atlanta, Georgia there were long voter lines at polling sites, the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, limited polling locations, and limited access to absentee ballots. Those standing in these long lines were largely African American. Many did not get to vote before the polling locations closed.
Alex Reimer wrote in Forbes (June 11, 2020) that Lebron James’ More Than a Vote “is one of the most important athlete political campaigns in history.” Lebron along with other prominent athletes is trying to end minority voter suppression, through education, funding, and making available absentee ballots to minority voters. That way, people can make a difference by casting their votes.
Lebron has a social media platform including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook of 136 million followers. Keep in mind: 137 million people voted in the 2016 presidential election. Lebron leveraged his vast influence for change, more or less in the unsaid, behind the scenes.
As a Japanese American, I live with the stereotype: We don’t speak up. We don’t complain and just do our work. That’s a broad-stroked stereotype. Yet, growing up in a Japanese American family, those values exist in our cultural context. More than just saying.
You’ve heard the saying, “Some things are better left unsaid.” In Japanese culture that’s essentially gaman. Gaman is the Japanese term of Zen Buddhist origin which means “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.” As a kid growing up in Hawaii, I was taught gaman.
Gaman, in the unsaid, is especially relevant in Aikido training, in martial arts training. I persevered the tough physical training, the loud voices only saying, “Hai [yes], Sensei.” I did so because there was the underlying greater purpose: To become a good man, a good person.
Mizukami Sensei guided me on that path. So, I endured the sometimes unbearable with patience, dignity, and honor. That was the Way. Sensei said, “Just train. Make it work.” There wasn’t a lot of talk. I put in the work. I had to grind it out. I had to make it work for me. Sensei was the Father I needed to invent my greater-than versions. I’m forever grateful. I love Sensei, always.
While Sensei was alive neither of us said, “I love you.” Our mad love and respect was in the unsaid. I loved watching the Super Bowl and eating pizza with Sensei at his home. Sensei acknowledged his love when he said, “You’re a better teacher than me.” Yeah, it would have been cool hearing Sensei say, “I love you.” It would have been cooler to say, “I love you, Sensei.” Sensei passed away several years ago.
After Sensei Dan Mizukami passed away, I spoke to Alyce, his wife, who was like my Mom in Los Angeles. Alyce told me that Sensei’s funeral services were for family only. I got it. No worries.
I said, “I loved Dan.” Alyce said, “He loved you, too.” I cried. That was like Sensei saying the unsaid. There is still our profound mad love and respect in the unsaid. Just saying.
“There are many ways to skin a cat.” There are many ways to express ourselves in the said, and unsaid. Either way, we can take meaningful action in the said and in the unsaid. We all wish to leave the world a greater place than when we came into it. Sometimes, doing so is just a matter of style. Just saying or not. Amen.
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