Teen Spotlight: Americans are returning to “normal,” but is normal good enough? | AspenTimes.com

Teen Spotlight: Americans are returning to “normal,” but is normal good enough?

Emily Kinney
Special to the Snowmass Sun
Emily Kinney.
Skier Scribbler/courtesy photo

While out on a hike on a recent afternoon, I overheard someone say, “Thank goodness summer is bringing everything back to normal.”

I assumed that normal referred to pre-COVID-19 times and reminisced back to when 6 feet of space and group sizes didn’t matter. Life was less complicated, but was it perfect?

As tourists return to the Snowmass Mall, restaurants open and wildflowers bloom on the Rim Trail, it appears we are reverting to our old ways of life whether or not this is good. But as the economy reopens and people get back to “normal,” it is essential to reflect on just what normal was in Snowmass Village and the country at large before this pandemic and consider what changes brought by the COVID-19 crisis we might want to implement into society more permanently.

COVID-19 isn’t something that should be taken lightly. The disease has taken American lives, jobs and dramatically shifted daily routines; all impacts that will affect America for years to come.

However, COVID-19 also has given us a global sense of empathy. There isn’t a country in the world untouched by the coronavirus pandemic, meaning on some level or another we really are all in this together. Locally, patrons in the supermarket make sure to give each other space to remain safe and citizens wear masks inside not just because it’s required but also to keep their neighbors healthy. There are many examples of these daily acts of kindness, such as restaurants donating to food drives and people donating computers to students who need them for online learning.

There’s a sense of community connectedness that stems from all of us going through this virus at once. While we all might be experiencing its effects differently, we are all affected by the pandemic, creating a shared understanding.

But beyond shared understanding, a much larger change in humanity’s behavior also is occurring amid the COVID-19 crisis. Many Americans are becoming more introspective and are working to investigate the upsetting realities of how different races are treated in America, as well as assess unjust systems that continually suppress people of color.

This recent involvement of the broader American public in the current Black Lives Matter movement isn’t a direct result of the coronavirus way of life but is something that should not go away as society returns to normal. Discussions about the reality of being black in America should not stop, nor should the protests demanding that black lives be valued. We should not return to a normal where black lives do not matter, police reform is not achieved and racist groups are still allowed to flourish. This change to heightened activism during the pandemic is one we need to keep and ensures things cannot return to the normal we knew — a normal where black men like George Floyd die after their necks are knelt on for almost nine minutes by a police officer and black essential workers like Breonna Taylor are shot in bed by police who had a “no-knock” warrant to look for drugs that aren’t there.

Broader American involvement in fixing racial injustices facing our nation is possibly the best shift from “normal” during this pandemic. I, too, am trying to be involved in mending these injustices. In doing so, I am starting to question what my activism should look like as a white teenager in an affluent community because I know I do not want things to return to the normal that existed before COVID-19.

During last weekend’s Black Lives Matter protest in Aspen, the names of 63 Black women and girls who had been killed by the police were read out loud. It was my first time hearing most of the names, which both embarrassed and enraged me. I was embarrassed by the fact I had no idea these killings were happening, and the longer I thought about the lack of national attention being brought to the issue of police brutality toward black women, the angrier I felt.

I left the protest vowing never to go back to the pre-pandemic normal of not talking about maltreatment of black women just because the mainstream media doesn’t explicitly cover it. Realizing the broad spectrum of injustices women of color face that most white people know nothing about led me to find my place as an activist. In order to keep this nation from going back to “normal,” my place as a white teenager is to amplify black voices and use my voice to spread awareness to infringements on black liberties. As the chant from the BLM protest says, “white silence is violence,” and I intend to fight the return to normal by breaking my silence and promoting black stories.

Both America and I have undergone changes, such as finding advocacy and empathy within us over the course of this pandemic, changes that have altered us for the better. The challenge moving forward will be to not lose this pandemic-stemmed progress and to use these new attributes to fight for a better normal.

Emily Kinney is a junior at Aspen High School and is a news editor for the Skier Scribbler school newspaper. This is her second year with the paper, and she hopes to continue reporting for the remainder of her time in high school.