Voboril: The bystander
Oblivious, he set out for his usual evening stroll. The sky was cloudless and paling in the twilight, so the distinct electrical charge confused him, portended a storm that was not in the forecast.
As he approached the boulevard, sounds that were once muffled grew thunderous, an arresting cacophony fueled by centuries of frustration. Reticent to continue, his feet nonetheless propelled him forward until he encountered the marching legions and the sins of his history. He became disoriented as he struggled to distinguish between the present moment and the flashbacks that flitted through his vision.
The images were eerily similar, but the clothing and tattoos allowed him to recognize this night as one separate from decades past. The imminence of confrontation was equally pervasive; that sickening feeling that peaceful demonstration would surely be met with aggressive resistance by those sworn to protect. Attack dogs and fire hoses had been replaced by the trappings of futuristic militarization, but the naked threat of violence remained. As before, he stood motionless, speechless, powerless, with cowardice.
In his self-conception, he was blameless. A man of reasonable success, well-esteemed by his peers, he had donated to the right causes, had even hired a few black men, no small measure in this particular community. Sure, he had turned a deaf ear to the vicious epithets that echoed through town, but he had a business and family to protect, could not jeopardize his status by becoming embroiled in a crisis that was not his to survive. His conscience tugged at him, but so too did his wallet and the accoutrements of a comfortable, safe life.
As a young man, he had been tempted by the righteous indignation that coursed through the populace, by the desperation and rage occasioned by the outright murders of the revolutionary vanguard. Still, as each paragon fell, he remained impassive. Picking up neither pitchfork nor picket, he hewed to the middle and the firm belief that the time for change would come eventually, if only people could be patient. Mistaking sympathy for empathy, he felt bad for his oppressed neighbors, but could not fathom the need for such agitation.
Witnessing tonight’s march, older and paunchier and paler than he had once been, he thought of his children. He imagined that his daughter was amongst a similar crowd, pursuing the justice in which she so strongly believed.
Her militancy was a direct rebuke of his refusal to take a stand. When they infrequently spoke, the disappointment in her voice was palpable. His son was, well, his son. A beneficiary of the system, he had once paid lip service to progressive ideals, but his recent postings on social media had his father recoiling in alarm. Without a strong paternal polarity, the moral compass was easily pulled in the direction of demagoguery.
The activists of his youth had asked and died for nothing more than equal treatment and common human decency. That tonight’s protestors were still levying the same simple demands instilled in him a profound sense of failure, personally and societally. Once convinced that racial progress was inexorable if incremental, he now realized that electing a black president did not dismantle the inherent predilections for prejudice and subjugation. Once proud that he had not succumbed to racist thought or action, he now understood that his casual indifference was just as destructive.
Standing shakily against the hastily constructed barricade, the whirlwind merging of past, present, and future threatened to overwhelm him. He was a lost voyager in the continuum of time and space, on the precipice of a critical decision. He could either repeat his past transgressions and turn around for home or he could cross the threshold into the teeming, angry throngs, taking up their mantle. Posterity stood on high, awaiting his choice.