The late great congressman John Lewis, whose life was honored last month, first rose to prominence in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. In his speech that August day in front of the Lincoln Memorial he thundered, “Wake Up America! Wake Up! For we cannot stop, and will not and cannot be patient.”
America is in a “Wake Up” moment. There’s no question that 2020 has been a year that was unexpected and a year we might like to forget. In reality, it’s a year we MUST remember. A bright light is shining on this nation’s inability to properly deal with a deadly virus that we cannot see, as we struggle through an emotionally charged election year where the fissures and fault lines in American society are on display for all to see.
Intersectionality is the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism and classism) combine, overlap or intersect, especially in the experience of marginalized individuals or groups. The last few months have seen intersectionality front and center, with many of the “isms” on full display and the results have been devastating. The examples grow by the day across the nation and in our own backyard.
Over half a century since the March on Washington, ugly racism persists with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and countless other acts of violence against members of the Black community, leading to a groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Asian American community has dealt with the backlash of President Trump referring to COVID-19’s geographic origins in disparaging terms. There have been reports of workplace discrimination, shunning businesses and physical assaults. Sadly, we have seen an increase in vitriolic comments and graffiti in many parts of the Peninsula directed at our Asian community.
In San Francisco, we saw a Latinx man physically deterred from entering the parking garage of his own apartment building and there is no question that the Latinx community has experienced higher rates of COVID-19 than the rest of our population, statewide and locally.
And in San Carlos, a rainbow-colored, heart-shaped wooden display with the words “Love Wins” was vandalized. That this cowardly act was committed to coincide with LGBTQ Pride celebrations is even more hurtful. That this unfortunately, was not the first incident, is equally troublesome. Even though many think of ourselves in the Bay Area as accepting and welcoming, equitable and just, non-discriminatory and more enlightened, these “isms” continue to fester in our community.
Regardless of our race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, we simply want to go to work, raise our families, be contributing members of society, treated with respect and dignity, be free of fear and oppression, and seek what the Founders simply termed “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Unfortunately, as a result of all the “isms” those unalienable rights aren’t always possible and recognizing the systemic barriers that stand in the way of opportunity is just the first step toward correcting the problem.
As the acknowledged beneficiary of white privilege, who had the advantages of a safe and secure middle class upbringing free of discrimination in San Mateo County, I fully support the Black Lives Matter movement and what it represents to all who have been and continue to be marginalized, disenfranchised and discriminated against. I am a proud supporter of my Assembly colleague Dr. Shirley Weber’s landmark legislative efforts on police use of force reforms, and to restore affirmative action so we may better address racial equality and justice in our public institutions. Yet there is so much more to be done.
We have five months left in 2020 and there’s no question that uncertainty reigns. I encourage all of us to make certain that besides finding new rhythms in our day-to-day lives, we make every effort to make sure that our new reality transcends the “isms” going forward. One senses that America will never be the same after this pandemic, deep recession, season of protest and what is expected be the most consequential election in the history of our republic.
Now more than ever, at a time of dangerous demagogues who divide and seek to pit identity groups against one another and give cover to those with hatred in their hearts, we must wake up to our common humanity and listen to, as Lincoln said, the “better angels of our nature.” Let this extraordinary moment in American history prove to be the ultimate inflection point and provide a new lens for a new world, where love and kindness prevail over the anger and hate. For it’s the only path toward that elusive more perfect union.
Kevin Mullin is speaker pro tempore of the California Assembly and represents the 22nd Assembly District.