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What can a pandemic teach us? I suppose it is teaching us what we should learn every day. The pandemic has magnified the many ills that is the underbelly of daily living. Inequality and injustice still besiege our society, and festers unrestrained.

I read recently that there is an upside to willful ignorance and a downside to knowledge. Knowledge demands that you confront your perception of reality. To confront your perception of reality, to confront mine, is an upheaval of beliefs, values, and desires that protect us. But to what extent must we protect ourselves from the things that are not true for us?

This pandemic has taught me that I have more to learn, which is something we must all acknowledge each day. In the past six months, I have seen highways blocked by a chain of human bodies, I have seen thousands kneel with their fists raised, and I have seen open arms wrapped around tearful hearts. I have also seen skies of smoke, milk being poured into people’s eyes, and a small child holding the placard Racism is a virus.
It is undeniable the suffering before our eyes. To deny it is to refuse the humanity of another. The pain of racism is that someone who has never experienced it cannot truly know its crushing weight. It is comparable to being caught in the path of a hurricane and watching as all you possess is stripped bare. The lashes of rain pervading any sense of comfort, and a flood carrying with it any flicker of hope and compassion. This hurricane makes landfall each day. It is without escape. It is infinitely and utterly lonely.

The perversion of racism is that some believe it is the relic of a bygone era. That is willful ignorance, an unwillingness to see, to learn, and to know the very thing that permeates the surface when Black Lives Matter is a chorus roaring from the East to the West.

For someone who has never experienced racism, it is okay to acknowledge that you do not know how it feels. It is offensive to say otherwise. When I was younger, I learned the maxim People need to be seen. To be anti-racist requires that you see, you acknowledge, you affirm the pain, the anger, the disappointment, and the many tumultuous feelings that come with those who have been under racism’s heel. To be seen demands that we all listen and learn. That we all strive to understand and enable that understanding to transform into action.

It is difficult to accept reality when it is vastly different from your own. Equally so, when you’re unwilling to listen, and no one is willing to listen to you. We cannot live without one another. We all share the risk of falling apart if we cannot learn to direct our strengths against injustice. Dialogue is crucial, listening is fundamental, and understanding is a restoration of decency and dignity.

As a newcomer to land conservation and on the path to understanding racism in this context, I welcome the opportunity for dialogue about inclusion and the ways in which we can all be allies in dismantling environmental injustice. We all need to be heard, and I am willing to hear you. Please reach out to me anytime at yodarko@ctconservation.org.

In all tribulation, empathy should reign. Empathy is understanding the perspective and needs of someone else even if you do not agree.

Yaw Owusu Darko
Project Specialist
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