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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: Running Up That Hill

Tommy Tomlinson

Sometimes, when you’re looking for signs and symbols, the gods just drop one on your head.

The other day I drove by Cordelia Park on North Davidson Street. There’s a big hill in the park. And the morning I drove by, there was a young black man running up that hill with a parachute tied to his back.

That parachute thing is something athletes do to train. The drag makes it harder to run. And if you haven’t figured it out by now, that’s a pretty good metaphor for black America: always running uphill, always pulling against everything dragging them back.

It feels like the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has finally caused things to click for some white people – like a tumbler in a vault to a deeper understanding of the American experience. Why George Floyd and not all the others? Maybe because the video lays it all so bare. As I heard somebody put it this past week, you can hear George Floyd narrate his own death, begging to his last breath as a police officer kneels on his neck and three others watch. I’m not sure it’s possible to see that and not understand that something is wrong.

And the dozens of videos since then, of police in riot gear tear-gassing protestors and knocking down old men, have been evidence of what black people have been telling the country for decades about how police often treat their fellow Americans. It might turn out that the most important invention of the 21st century is the cellphone camera.

And so instead of the protests dying down, they’re growing, here in the Charlotte area and all over the world. People are risking their lives to the coronavirus to fight a bigger disease, one that has killed more black Americans than the virus ever will.

Some people have taken advantage of the moment to loot and destroy. It’s wrong, especially when the victims did nothing to cause the problem. But it’s also fair to say that some of the richest and most powerful people in this country have spent their lives looting the system from the inside. And it’s also fair to say that black Americans have had the most taken away from them – the most wealth, the most property, the most freedom.

But most of the protestors have been peaceful. They’ve been diverse crowds — people from different races and with different incomes, young families with kids, old folks who march with canes. And every attempt to stop them makes the protestors look more American and the people out to stop them less so.

Here’s another way you know things are changing: Corporations from the NFL to your local sub shop are making sure their customers know that black lives matter. Over the weekend the Carolina Panthers dumped CPI Security, one of their longtime sponsors, because its CEO suggested the focus ought to be on black-on-black crime instead. Of course most companies are just now jumping on the Black Lives Matter bandwagon. But it’s telling that they think this particular bandwagon is the smart place to be.

I’m a professional skeptic. I always hope the world will change for the better, but my experience makes me think otherwise. But this week – for the first time in a few years, really – I felt some real hope. There are a lot of people who want to tear-gas that hope, to stomp it out, but I don’t think they can do it forever.

So many of our fellow citizens have been that young man at the park, always running uphill. A lot of white Americans are just now seeing the hill, just now seeing all that has dragged at black people’s backs. It’s up to all of us to level the ground and cut the cords. We should all get the same chance to run.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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