Let’s rap about ethos, or ‘character’ as defined in Greek, as it has shaped our ideas around ethics. As I understand the term, ethics can imply broad, and narrow definitions, depending on the individual or community being addressed. For example, when I started medical school, I had to pledge The Hippocratic Oath, a long-standing tradition in the medical community, which provides a sort of moral compass for practitioners. Similarly, when one takes the stand in court, you are to swear upon the Bible. These are just a few examples of how “moral codes” are upheld in the United States, and there are many more examples across the globe. One common goal these codes share is the need for accountability, which I respect. Yet, I wonder, who created the criteria? Who defined ethical responsibility in the United States?
Historically, we know that this country was built on violence, racial constructs, and greed, try as it might to cover that truth. And we know that this truth was predominantly, if not entirely, initiated by immigrant people of European decent whom, out of fear, created an invisible, color-based system of segregation known as ‘race’. We know what ensued as a result of that fear, manifesting eras of slavery that continues to this day.
Now, we are in the midst of a very different era. Without over-simplifying the growing social activism of people across this country, what we are experiencing is a cultural shift. As Howard Zinn pointed out in A People’s History of the United States:
The memory of oppressed people is one thing that cannot be taken away, and for such people, with such memories, revolt is always an inch below the surface.
It is young people of color, with the help of adult allies, and white allies who are coming together to re-define our ethical codes, by showing what conscience moral principles really look like. Our young people are dismantling archaic ideals created by fearful, and often ignorant people, by designing brand new tools that set the stage for this pivotal moment in history. All the while honoring the foremothers and forefathers who came before in the struggle for liberation. They urge us to be on the right side of history, by expressing what true accountability looks like. They are attempting a huge challenge, with relentless power and peaceful protest. They are reminding us with fervor that the ancestral memory of oppressed people is always present, and that energy is what some call a riot. Really, it is more about returning home in the long walk to freedom. Our young people are leading us by example.
It is an exciting, challenging, and crucial time for everyone. If you haven’t done so already today, take a moment to show love and respect for the youth in your life. Show them you support them, and are there to guide them. Answer their questions. Ask them questions. Value their wisdom, they have more than you may realize. And in the spirit of multi-generational activism, here is to more days of solidarity, more love, more peace, and more justice. May we all stand on the right side of history.