What is our “new normal”?

To be cliché, I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time I heard this question in a conversation, in the news, or from a business leader. I haven’t been able to put my finger on what was bugging me about that question, but I’m finally finding the words.

I hear this question, first in light of continued recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and increasingly more so as many are collectively “waking up” to racism in our country. I’m seeing it in business articles and conversations with pundits, posturing that they know exactly the path forward to get us to life as it used to be amid some of the most challenging times we’ve seen in modern history. It begs me to ask yet another question for us to consider: why do we want to find “normal”?

In a world that is complex, “normal” helps us make meaning of what is happening in the world around us. To have a baseline is to understand what is expected – expectations of us as humans, of our societies and of our greater world. Normal means that we’re “conforming to a standard” (thanks, Merriam Webster).

I get the desire for “normal.” Deep in my bones, I want “normal” too, especially as it pertains to my day-to-day before the pandemic. I liked life where I could travel with my 3-year old son and hubby to the grocery store and the public playground without masks. I loved being able to hug my friends and plan trips. I enjoyed having a job where I got to pour into other women and watch them build their careers. What I wouldn’t give for a day to sit at a coffee shop and write (but really, I just want to people watch and feel connected to others). I would sacrifice a lot to have a hug from my best friends.

However, “normal” has another side. “Normal” within the context of the standard we’ve set for how we allow systemic racism is destructive. “Normal” was a standard set by, and rooted in, white supremacy. What was “normal” was watching yet another unarmed Black man be arrested and killed but not do anything (no, an Instagram post doesn’t count here) to actually fight against the injustice because “I’m not racist.” “Normal” was watching as Black women were passed up for promotions or advancement for unspoken reasons. “Normal” was looking at corporate board rooms and government offices and not seeing America represented in background and skin colors but not holding our leaders accountable. “Normal” was acknowledging that Black women make $0.62 to a white man’s dollar but doing little to pay them more. “Normal” allowed us to bask in our white privilege. These examples of “normal” are just the tip of the iceberg – “Normal” was a lack of dignity or respect for another person’s life because of the color of their skin, both consciously and subconsciously.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that “normal” isn’t ok if people are treated unfairly.

When our beliefs –systemically racist on many levels – are shaken, we struggle to make sense of it all and do mental and verbal gymnastics about our own role in these events. Let’s face it – if “normal” is what we’re heading back to, get me off this train.

I don’t see a “new normal,” I see the potential of an elevated society that is doing the work. “The work of anti-racism is becoming a better human to other humans,” says Austin Channing Brown. I wholeheartedly agree and simultaneously cringe because I know how much discomfort, pain, and heartache that will come up doing that work. And yet, it’s VITAL.

I’m always accused of being overly optimistic with rose-colored glasses, but if there’s any time for change, it is now. I can see communities where we connect with those we may not have talked to before, and lean into the uncomfortable conversations and situations in order to grow and learn. One where we can see equity in healthcare, the justice system, education, community financial support, and more. One where equality isn’t lip service – it’s lived.

It might be very hard to imagine, but what would happen if we took a hard look at what isn’t working and laid down our political affiliations to just solve the problems? This might sound trite, but “normal” is comfortable. It’s time for white people, myself included, to take the discomfort up a notch so that we can evolve. Why? Because Black lives are at stake. Not only do their lives matter (that’s the bare minimum), but their dreams, goals and aspirations matter. Their communities matter. The richness and depth of our world depends on the Black men and women who have given so much and are, yet, so traumatized because of how we (white people) — have treated them.

I’m thinking through how me and my family will continue to work throughout our community and world to transcend “normal.” The first step is to listen, which is something we’ve done a lot over the past six years. The next step is to have authentic conversations, and if we could invite you over to dinner, you’d watch us stumble through conversations with our son about race and current events.

But the stumbling changes us. It moves us to grow, to know better and do better (as the great Maya Angelou would say). These are just first, baby steps. More will come.

Our nation has ignored our stumbling for far too long. Maybe our “new normal,” if you will, is one where we are finally open to hearing, learning and acting to support our BIPOC out of a common love and respect. I believe our “new normal” will look like radically reimagining what life will look like in order to move toward true freedom for BIPOC colleagues so that tomorrow doesn’t look like today.

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