George Floyd Called For his Mama, Amy Cooper Called 911: Resources to Understand Systemic Racism in America and How to Help Change It

Two weeks ago, George Floyd died in police custody. A Minneapolis police officer used a restraining tactic of placing a knee on his neck, applying pressure for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Mr. Floyd was unconscious for nearly three of those minutes and for a full minute after EMTs arrived on the scene to provide medical care. Among his last words, George Floyd called out for his Mama.

Earlier that same day, Monday, May 25, 2020, Amy Cooper called 911 after a man requested she leash her dog while walking through the Ramble, a popular destination in New York’s Central Park. The two were alone in the area, beloved by bird watchers. Instead of complying with the law and leashing her dog, Amy Cooper instead called 911, raising her voice, sounding fearful and hysterial, reporting that an “African American” man was “threatening” her life.

In these instances, white people contributed to the trauma and death of Black Americans. Why? Because of racism, one of America’s original and seemingly intractable sins.

In the two weeks since, America has marched, gathered, protested, rioted, looted, took a knee, took a stand, yelled, denied, assembled, honked, held up a fist, threw bottles, ran away in fear, and been pushed in a thousand different ways — good and bad.

Friday afternoon, the hashtag #IAmASuburbanMom started trending on Twitter. That same day and through yesterday, I noticed pictures popping up in my social media feeds of protests in predominately white suburbs and neighborhoods of Chicago. I also saw photos and reports of anti-racism protests in small “sundown towns” in different states, referring to towns that Black Americans know are unsafe for them to be out in or travel through after the sun sets.

Is the tide turning? Maybe. Maybe not. As always, I choose hope.

Taken at a “Honk-In” protest in my Chicago neighborhood on Friday, June 5, 2020.

In that vein, I realized that a lot of folks, like those suburban moms and folks living in predominantly white locales, were looking to educate themselves and learn more about systemic racism and police brutality in America. I also know that most of my readers are white women and mothers and in a unique position to redefine and shape what their children are learning and exposed to about the truth and extent of racism and police brutality in America.

There is a lot of emotional labor involved in asking your BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) friends and family to educate you about what they experience as a a matter of walking through their lives and days. Instead, white folks must learn to educate themselves and take the proverbial bull by the horns in working to understand racism and police brutality and how these ingrained systems can begin to be dismantled and changed.

Here are some resources that can be used by you and those in your circles. These are not exhaustive in any way, but they are a great place to start and learn. Share the information, start discussions or reading groups, talk with your kids and their teachers. Take a risk and challenge your uncle (cause we all have that uncle, right?) at the next holiday gathering.

Speaking up and showing up is so important. I stopped speaking up and showing up in this space regularly a few years ago after this President was elected. I regret it and am ashamed of it, but guilt is useless. What matters more is what you do today, tomorrow, and moving forward. Use your voice, use your power to change this world we share. Here is a place to start, read, and learn:

158 Resources to Understand Racism in America from the Smithsonian Magazine

Anti-Racism Resources for White People

The Sesame Street/CNN Town Hall for Children on Racism

Selma, Just Mercy and other titles that are free to stream on digital platforms right now

Here are a sampling of posts I have written myself over the years about race, racism, and parenting:

6 Valuable Tips for Talking About Race With Young Children – an interview with Dr. Jeanne Robbins, Head of Early Childhood Division, Catherine Cook School

What To Do When Someone Uses the N Word Around You – advice from a friend after a stranger called her this racial slur while at the 7-11

When Your 7 Year Old Asks If Slavery Is Still a Problem in America – spoiler alert, yes, it is

A Tale of Two Chicagos – a personal reflection on growing up white in Chicago and the racism that goes along with that

Another thing that has helped me tremendously is following along on #BlackTwitter. I guarantee you, it will be a gut punch of awakening, but crucial to grow and learn and evolve in the effort to be anti-racist. #BlackTwitter gives white people the invaluable opportunity to be the fly on the wall. Listen and learn, less speaking and more reading. That pit of defensiveness in your stomach may be very apparent. I encourage you not to act on that. Sit with it. Examine it. Try and understand it.

Also crucial to understand that Black Americans are not a monolith — there are progressive voices and conservative voices and young voices and old voices and male voices and female voices and LGBTQ+ voices represented here, but it barely scratches the surface of what can be learned by listening to and following Black voices on Twitter.

@AdamSerwer – writer and The Atlantic

@AdrianCJax – activist and software creator

@AdrienneWrites – Adrienne Gibbs, editor and writer

@agordonreed – Annette Gordon-Reed, Harvard Law Professor, author

@ava – Ava DuVernay, film director

@blackgirlinmain – Shay Stewart Bouley, writer

@_CharlesPreston – Chicago activist and organizer

@ClintSmithIII – writer, poet, father

@deray – activist, author, podcaster

@dianelyssa – a great Twitter follow for the young crowd

@DrIbram – author and historian

@IjeomaOluo – writer, author of So You Want to Talk About Race

@iSmashFizzle – Ashley C. Ford, writer and podcaster

@JamilahLemieux – writer, cultural critic

@JasonReynolds83 – Author, poet, National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature

@kashanacauley – TV writer

@MatthewACherry – director, writer

@nhannahjones – Nikole Hannah Jones, journalist, just won 2020 Pulitzer for 1619 Project

@thearmchaircom – Ally Henny, writer

@TheRoot – digital magazine that presents the Black perspective

@WendellPierce – actor, jewel of NOLA

Be like this gal. Photo taken at Warren Park “Honk In” on Friday, June 5, 2020.

If there are other resources that should be included, please reach out to me at marytylermom@gmail.com.

1:30 – 2:30

Whew. It’s 1:40 in the afternoon, which has become a bit of an oasis for me during this required time of isolation with family. 1:30 -2:30 is “Quiet Time” on our new family schedule. We’re into week two right now and the time has been going slow and fast, simultaneously. Slast. The time has been going by so slast.

My boys are 6 and 11. Their needs and interests are different. Very different. Typically, our schedules are set in such a way that the weekends are when we look for things that will make both boys happy, satisfied, and engaged. That weekend need has now multiplied to seven days a week. Weekends are now more clearly a construct of time and schedule, but man made, manufactured by union leaders of the past. Thank you, union leaders of the past!

Like so many other families sheltering at home during this time, we are winging it. Our trajectory, if Facebook has been any indication, is a wee bit different than other families we know. Last Monday, the first official weekday of Illinois’ ordered shelter in place, I got a bad toothache. This dental phobic gal knew exactly what that meant. Dammit all to hell is what I kept telling myself, wishing the pain away, hoping it was phantom, borne of stress, and like that miracle President Trump talked about, would just go away.

By Tuesday, it was clear it would not. By Wednesday, I got up the nerve to call my dentist and learned that dentists are not really in the business of dentist-ing right now. I was referred to an oral surgeon. Root canals are also not an option during this period of extreme caution, so they proposed to rip that sucker right out. With a lot of precautions, I had a rear molar removed last Thursday. I got IV sedation, which was the absolute calmest I have felt in a couple of weeks. A couple of days later, I realized I had taken about 16 photos of my feet in the recovery room that I had no memory of whatsoever.

So, yeah, after that and some other nonsense, it’s taken a bit of time to find our groove for this enforced time together. We are working to try and stick to a schedule that I posted on the Mary Tyler Mom Facebook page earlier on. It’s a little Pinterest perfect pie-in-the-sky, but with a few modifications, it has met our needs.

One of my favorite hours, I am not too proud to admit, is this one we’re in right now, between 1:30 – 2:30. Quiet time. That means my boys must rest in their beds, either napping or reading. Mama needs this hour. To breathe. To panic. To nap myself. To watch an episode of Nurse Jackie (why had no one ever told me about Nurse Jackie before this?). To catastrophize in damn peace, thank you very much.

Sixty minutes of mostly quiet. Sometimes giggles. Sometimes loud laughter. Sometimes little faces popping into whatever space I am in and asking, “How much time left, Mama?”

I need this hour. I need these sixty minutes like Nurse Jackie needed an intervention. I need these 60 Minutes like CBS News needed a ratings bump in the 1970s. And, for the most part, I am using it exactly as directed — quiet time. My time. Not family time or academic time or ‘get outside and walk’ time or chores time or kitchen time or ‘wiping every surface I can find with a too quickly dwindling supply of Clorox wipes’ time.

I use this hour to try and connect with some peace within, to quiet the fear and worries and dread and doom and gloom that is so very loud in these days. Today, I am sharing it with my keyboard. And you. And it feels quiet. And manageable. And familiar. And comforting. And necessary. Really and truly necessary, because the future is so uncertain right now and that can be a really scary thing.

It’s 2:30 now, folks, and the littlest one just came out, poking his head around his door frame. “Mama,” he says. And with that, quiet time is over.

How Old Is Too Old to Be President?

Folks are gonna hate on me for positing what many will consider to be an ageist question, but as someone who has worked professionally in the field of aging*, I think it is a question voters should absolutely be considering.

From youngest to oldest, Elizabeth Warren is 70, Joe Biden is 77, Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders are both 78, but Bloomberg comes in at 5 months younger than Sanders.

Four of the remaining six viable Democratic presidential candidates range in age from 70 to 78 years old. That number alone should not give you pause, but other factors about certain of these candidates should. But first, let’s get a wee bit of historical perspective of how old our past presidents have been.

To date, only 3 of our 45 presidents have served in office over the age of 70. They would be Dwight Eisenhower, who turned 70 just a few months before leaving office in his second term, Ronald Regan, who turned 70 just a couple of weeks after his first inauguration, and our current POTUS, Donald Trump, who was well into his 70th year at the time of the 2016 election. If re-elected, Trump would finish a second term at age 78.

I don’t know about you, but I find that surprising. I guess I have always imagined our Presidents to be old men, and they have, but given shorter life expectancies, old men were perceived as older at younger ages through our nation’s history. My point being, for 2/3 of viable presidential candidates to be in their 70s and a full half to be much closer to 80 is, in fact, an age related aberration for a presidential candidate pool.

That is significant and something we should be talking about. Now let’s get more specific.

The oldest of the Democratic candidates is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. He suffered a heart attack just after his most recent birthday, which was confirmed in early October of last year by his campaign. While he had previously stated that he would release all of his medical records as a candidate, Sanders and his campaign are now walking back that pledge, maintaining that releasing medical records is a bit of a slippery slope and wonders where the requests for information will end.

I don’t know about you, but that gives me significant concern. There is online chatter that a heart attack does not matter, that even if Bernie dies or becomes incapacitated while in office, his VP will assume office. Except we don’t know who that VP is or what the health status of that person might be and the risk of subsequent heart attacks after a first one are significant. That said, Sanders appears robust and healthy on the campaign trail.

But speaking of VPs, let’s talk about former Vice President Joe Biden. No heart attacks in his health care closet, but you don’t have to look hard to see that 2020 Joe is a far cry from 2012 Joe, or even 2016 Joe. As someone who has worked with older adults professionally, I see a few red flags with Biden, but three are especially concerning for me.

One is his language. Biden’s language is disrupted and it appears to be getting worse. One of the primary and earlier signs of dementia is a change in language capacity. Aside from the “lying, dog-faced pony soldier” comment he recently made in Iowa, there are other signs of language disruption separate and apart from his well known issue of stuttering. His pauses are longer, his words and responses not always relevant to questions he is being asked. He is increasingly off topic and unresponsive and not completing sentences.

The second one is an uncharacteristic anger and loss of filter. These things are common when an older adult is struggling with changes in their frontal lobe, the part of our brain that acts as an innate censor for all of us. Biden appears angrier than his usual relatable, jovial self on the campaign path. Calling voters (plural, as this has happened more than once), not Trump or fellow candidates, a liar is a red flag for me. It is an impulsive, unfiltered response to stimulus he does not like. And it is a marked shift in personality.

Finally, there is a vacancy in Biden’s affect or expression, which is unmistakable for me. He looks lost more often than he looks in command of things. His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, is present and at his side much more often than in previous campaigns. Is she acting as cover? Is she a conscious or unconscious guide, helper for her loving husband? This is very possible and very common for older couples when one is starting to require more assistance.

These factors I have identified with Biden are nuanced and easy to explain away. Folks can become defensive when it is suggested and that is understandable. And let me stress that I am responding as someone with experience with an older population, but all of my feedback is anecdotal. That said, I can’t help but think of a current story arc from This is Us where the character of Rebecca has just been diagnosed with MCI, mild cognitive impairment. Her story line has encapsulated much of what I observe with Joe Biden and is consistent with my previous experience.

And lest folks accuse me of being ageist and discriminating solely on age, let me argue the opposite. I have seen no signs of alarm related to age from either Mike Bloomberg or Elizabeth Warren, again, both in their 70s, though Bloomberg does have a history of cardiac stent placement.

The thing about aging is that it happens to all of us, if we are lucky, and no two folks have the same experience or path. There are folks in their 90s running marathons and folks in their 60s living in nursing homes. But it is undeniable that being older puts all of us at greater risk for change, including changes in health status, and sometimes those changes are slow and progressive and sometimes those changes are sudden and acute.

It would be irresponsible not to consider the age and health of these candidates. And now, not after a candidate is chosen for the primary, or elected to office.

_______________________________

* I am trained as a clinical social worker and spent twelve years working in health care settings with older adults. First at a hospital in a program geared towards older adults and then at a retirement community where I was responsible for helping individuals cope with aging and the losses, cognitive and physical, related to aging. For eight years I worked alongside a geriatric psychiatrist who provided training in the neuropsychological assessment of older adults.