Hermann: A tale of two centuries
As America stands divided — people versus government — we begin to draw parallels between 17th-century France and the United States today.
The thin curtain hiding the systematic oppression and racism in our country today has been torn. In light of the recent death of an unarmed man named George Floyd, Americans (and people around the world) flood the streets to protest Black Lives Matter. Americans are getting a glimpse of the hate and fear that drives our country today.
Much like in the novel "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens, we see how the oppressed are rising and letting their voices ring out and be heard by the powerful and wealthy.
In the novel, we see how Dickens masterfully shines a light on the everyday life and the hardships that the Parisians are enduring just to survive. Dying at the hands of their superiors, working themselves to death just to provide for their families.
We see this theme resurface in today's society as people of color use their voices to demand equality. They, too, are exposing the rigged system meant to launch white people into a hierarchical privilege leaving all "others" to pick up the pieces of broken America. Fear looms over their lives; will they make it home safely tonight, have enough resources to provide for their family, will they be safe in their own homes?
Dickens brings to light the powerful story of a young boy who is killed by the ignorance and carelessness of the marquis. To compensate for the boy's death, he throws a gold coin at the father. This story is relevant now as hundreds of people of color are killed every year due to police brutality. But instead of rethinking our engrained systems, the grieving community is promised pocket change.
The novel also holds the story of a young man who is stabbed by a noble when he confronts him about the horrible acts of violence he had committed against his sister. This holds meaning today when we look at whistleblowers of police brutality and systemic racism in our country. The powerful try to silence them or to devalue their statements. For example, the women who released the video of Floyd's murder received death threats from people around the country for sharing the video. And many Americans attempted to devalue the life of Mr. Floyd because of his criminal past.
No one deserves to die at the hands of those who swore to protect us.
We see how both the storming of the Bastille and the death of George Floyd have sparked a revolution, people are seeing the oppression, the prejudice, the racism that has been hiding in plain sight for hundreds of years and we are fed up. The Bastille was a symbol of power and oppression by the aristocrats, and in the novel, we see it being burned to the ground, much like the police department in Minneapolis a few weeks ago.
I am in no way condoning the acts of violence, merely drawing a comparison between the injustices highlighted in the book and the actions of today.
Growing up, I've often heard that unchecked history has a way of repeating itself. Can we do better?
Hannah Hermann is a North Portland resident.
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