Much can be learned about butterflies by watching them. I had the privilege of doing so a couple of days ago. With the Spring weather now glorious in Saint Louis, we went for a walk around my neighborhood. The eastern rosebuds were in full bloom along the road and so were the butterflies you see along the way. During our walk, I came across one that allowed me to take its picture from a close distance without flying away. I would later learn it’s name as I am not familiar with butterfly species. The one I saw was an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. The researcher in me did what I know how to do best.
In the process of learning about this butterfly, I came across the following worth sharing. For this butterfly, even its beauty is fragile and a major source of predation. But of all I read, that they live an average of 2 weeks kept me alert. Not only do they spend their winter as pupae in extreme cold, but when they break their chrysalis and become butterflies in the Spring, they only last for about 2 weeks. Aggressive encounters with all sorts of predators including birds often result in their demise. That they would do all they can to survive harsh winters, just for Spring to arrive and still not make it is a reminder to keeping knowing just how multiple forms of predation, aggression, even oppression interact to still kill us. Despite our best intentions, despite even our pleas for our lives, our breath, our being, we are still killed whether directly as with the death of George Floyd, or indirectly as with the collective trauma many of us feel now, listening to expert after expert detail how life was sucked out of a man in handcuffs during a trial that should not be. Our presence, our appearance, our being, no matter how beautiful, no matter how dutiful, can and will kill us. It is for this reason that we have to do our part to dismantle racism and protect ourselves. These Eastern Tiger Swallowtail engage in elaborate mimicry to survive. It works in the short term as it helps them proceed from a pupae to a butterfly.
To understand why we find ourselves here, with racism now being declared as a public health threat, we are fortunate to learn from the the experience of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. What if we learn from them and use the lessons they use to survive a fragile life where their demise like stark racism is pervasive, severe, far-reaching and unacceptable. What if we gather all the resources we can find and use them to become resilient in the face of potential exposures to racism and racial traumas. We are afterall, all George Floyd. Every Black person in America can be denied to opportunity to live, to breathe, play, or even gather, because of racism. Now imagine the trauma that can entail, the burden not just for ourselves but for generations of children yet in the world. We can also become his legacy and use his presence, his appearance, his being to survive. We can and will survive because George Floyd paid the ultimate price to do the work necessary to dismantle all forms of racism. For him, our appearance like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies will be beautiful, our survival profound, and our legacy lasting and our resilience, sterling. That’s the lesson I’m keeping. A desire to still be resilient despite exposure to racism, an opportunity to be and to still remain beautiful like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly despite living in a fragile world.