The country is being torn apart, and bloggers are weighing in. I feel like I should join, but I also feel like there’s nothing I can say that would add to the debate.
If I post #blacklivesmatter, people will think I’m anti-police. If I try to show my support for police by posting #bluelivesmatter or #alllivesmatter, people will think I’m racist.
I think we’ve passed the point where we can sum up our feelings with a hashtag.
There’s so much I don’t know. Here’s what I do know:
Is there systemic racism in law enforcement? Yes. It’s naïve to think otherwise. Keep in mind that the media is showing us the very WORST of what’s out there. However, even one life lost to police brutality is too many. We have to do better, and I’m completely in support of the #blacklivesmatter movement in bringing about that change. Last night I heard Cory Hughes, the organizer of the Dallas protest, speak on NPR about the aims for the movement and their desire to bring about change through peaceful protest. The movement should not be judged for the rogue actions of one individual (the sniper). What happened to those police officers is heartbreaking. But we must resist, as hard as we can, blaming black people or blaming the movement for these deaths. That only inflames the violence further. ONE person and one person only is to blame for the officers’ deaths–the shooter.
I know it’s more complex than that, though. My blogging friend Don of all Trades, who is himself a police officer, has an amazing post about the potential of social media to inflame violence. There is truth here also. It’s positive and desirable that someone with little social, economic, and political power like Philando Castile’s girlfriend can communicate her experience to the world. However, evidence is always incomplete. What was the officer’s rationale for acting he way he did? Did he believe his life to be in danger, and if so, why? The video shows us a gruesome picture, evokes indignance, but justice can’t be based on emotion. As scary and horrifying as this all is, before we can declare either of the recent instances police brutality, we must know all the facts. Before allowing ourselves to be aroused to ire, we need to stop, listen, evaluate.
And none of us have that chance. We are all operating on incomplete information and we are all victims of our emotions, on which the media gladly preys. As I was working out yesterday, one of the TVs at the gym was set to FOX news, and the caption “SHOOTER WANTED TO KILL WHITE OFFICERS” remained on the screen for at least thirty minutes. Kind of hard not to get angry about that, isn’t it, white people? Then maybe you have an idea what it feels like to be black in America, where anti-black sentiment is still so prevalent. I grew up with “nigger” and “coon.” I grew up being told that interracial relationships were “OK,” but they should not bring forth children. I grew up with a friend of my parents’ who referred to black people by gesturing to his black t-shirt and rolling his eyes. (“He was 98% cotton, 2% spandex?!”, I wanted to exclaim in mock disbelief. Idiot.) Even if I hadn’t grown up in that climate, I easily could probe social media for ten minutes and find enough racism for an entire lifetime. It’s there, people. Yes, the media shows us the worst, isolated incidents, but it’s there, and we need to fix it.
I think white people can recognize their privilege without succumbing to “white guilt.” If I bring up the history that has gotten us to this point, I’m not trying to make white people feel guilty. I’m not trying to excuse violent behavior. I’m trying to explain the violent behavior, to put it in a context that makes sense. If you think that “the blacks should just be happy with what they have,” you are wrong. Our present circumstances are the fallout of 250 years of systemic oppression. Blacks were brought here as slaves, deprived of not only their freedom, but also of their very culture and identity. Even after slavery was outlawed, they continued to face—and still face—daunting social, economic, and political oppression. Sorry if that’s inconvenient, but it’s the truth. *tips hat to Al Gore*
It is shamefully easy to see a poor black person’s life as less important than a police officer’s. Try this thought experiment: If a white police officer and a poor black person were dying, which one would you save? Is your impulse to save the police officer, perhaps because of the contribution a police officer makes to society? Mine was. Think about that. I had that impulse despite knowing nothing about the poor black person. Does that person have children? Do they paint, write poetry, take care of an ailing parent?* Serve lunch to Montessori students, as Castile did? I say I believe that all lives matter, but I was quick to make a judgment that placed more value on a white person’s life.
And yet, when I pressed myself to analyze further, I realized I’d do the same irrespective of race. In other words, save a black police officer before a poor white person. Which is a significant insight, because it reveals that even though racism does exist, the bigger issue we’re not willing to confront is classism. I don’t know if we fix our race troubles without fixing our broken economic system.
(I feel like this is the part where Bernie Sanders should come out and do a little dance. I would pay to see Bernie Sanders do a little dance. Perhaps wearing a fez, for some reason. I don’t know. I’m weird.)
Nor can we solve our racial violence problem without solving our violence problem. As Adam Gopnik wrote this week in The New Yorker, “The killings in Dallas are one more reminder that guns are central, not accessory, to the American plague of violence . . . having a nation of men carrying concealed lethal weapons pretty much guarantees that there will be lethal results, an outcome only made worse by our toxic racial history.” I’m generally not a “ban all guns” person, but it’s difficult to ignore that these instances of violence are occurring in open-carry states. Would things have gone differently in non-open-carry states? Would Philando Castile have had a gun? Would the Dallas sniper have had a gun? Could the deaths have been prevented?
It would seem it’s time to bring out Charlton Heston for a little ditty.
No one should have to die for things to get better. No one. It’s not fair, but if history is to believed, it’s how change happens. Dialectical materialism is the name of the show, and we are all merely players. That’s a depressing thought, so here’s more levity.
*cues Karl Marx coming out to dance with Bernie* *note that he had to rise from the dead to do this, which is pretty bad-ass* “Seriously, please explain dialectical materialism to use through interpretive dance, Karl”
In the meantime, as change comes about slowly and painfully, what can we do? Love each other. Be compassionate. Embrace levity when you need it. Fight for your country—not with weapons, but with a demand for change.
And make moments like this, which is the most wonderful thing I’ve seen this week:
*I finally gave over to “they” as a singular pronoun, IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS. Bite it. It’s about as traumatic when I stopped putting two spaces after a period, but I’ll deal.