I don’t talk about contentious topics all that often around here, not because I lack views on them, but because I figure they aren’t the focus of my blog. And quite often I don’t feel qualified to do so. Occasionally I break that pattern. This is one of those days.
I’ve wanted to talk about race for a while.
But, I really don’t know how, and so, I have been silent. I actually started this blog post months ago…
After all, what can a middle class, white, transplanted midwestern woman living in the South say about race (and that hasn’t been said better by people far more eloquent and qualified than I am to say it)? Other than to apologize pre-emptively because I am probably guaranteed to say something that is racially insensitive, and that is wrong or hurtful even though that is sincerely not my intent or objective.
I know what it is like to be discriminated against and harassed for being a woman, I’ve lived it…I feel qualified to at least discuss my experiences there. I know *those* men that like to think they aren’t sexist because they “love their sister/mother/wife/cousin” in one breath and spout of some nonsense about “women drivers” or “women in the military” or “she had it coming” in the same way that I’m guessing some white people like to think they are “color blind” because they have “a black friend” and so on to do/say some terribly inconsistent and questionable things. Racism isn’t something that I am confronted with regularly, its probably not something that I notice in my obliviousness when it is silent and subtle, it may even be something I’ve done without knowing, and the sheer fact that I don’t talk about it–that white people don’t talk about it–is part of the problem, in the same way that men not talking about sexual harassment and gender inequality is a problem.
I didn’t really stop to think about that truth–about how silent I’ve been on the matter until last week, when I was looking at the pictures of Monticello that I had taken in November, and I was reminded of how very nonchalantly the white group of college students before us proclaimed “oh, well this isn’t that bad–like that cabin where we go camping” and “sort of like a tiny house” as they assessed the rebuilt one-room slave cabin located where the Hemmings cabin had been, and how very awkwardly the white father with his two very young children tried to explain that “the people that lived here could never leave and had to do what they were told by the people in the big house or they would get in big trouble.”
Camping in a a tiny house of life-long time-out.
Are you fucking kidding me?
The problem with white people can be summed up in that one sentence. Thinking about it now makes me just as livid as I was that day, when I kept my mouth shut because I “didn’t want to make a scene” and “I did’t know what to say” and “I didn’t even know these people” and “I’m not really a fan of confrontations”. If my kids had been there, I might have pointedly and loudly engaged them in a discussion of one of our nation’s greatest sins–because Scott and I do Civil War reenacting, the reality of the tragic and terrible institution of enslavement is one that our children are as a 9 and 7 year old can be.
Excuses. All true, but still, all excuses.
And then yesterday I had to listen to the Southern “good old boy” bullshit about the Dallas shooting and how it’s some sort of validation that Black Lives Matter being some sort of reverse racism conspiracy theory to “get our guns” and distract us from Hillary’s emails. Because all lives matter and blue lives matter and WTF…
I’m really depressed (not in the clinical sense) about the human condition and human proclivities right now. Because the same things that make us beautiful, generous, creative, compassionate, inspired and inspiring, kind, hopeful–those things are oh, so easily twisted. We are, all of us, to the core, beautiful and monstrous, defined by our love and our hate in equal measure, and the one that wins is the one that we give the world.
I’m part of the problem.
I get it white people. It makes you really damn uncomfortable to address the systematic kidnapping, rape, brutality, subjugation, torture, and murder that we call slavery. It makes you really damn uncomfortable to address the decades of the systematic denial of civil and social rights that we take for granted as white people. It makes you really damn uncomfortable to confront the fact that somewhere in your ancestry, your relatives (maybe as recently as your parents, maybe even you) were assholes. It makes you really damn uncomfortable because you know, you know, even if you ignore it or deny it that there is something rotten in the state of American society with regards to race and that rot festers from us–from our ignorance, our apathy, our complicitness, our silence.
I get it because it makes me really damn uncomfortable.
As it should. If you are not made uncomfortable by the historical reality of slavery and segregation and how that history echoes into the reality of being black today and the perpetuation of individual and institutional racism, whether overt and conscious or subtle and unconscious, then you are part of the problem.
But part of my path means wrestling with the things that hide in the abyss. And the most dangerous things in the abyss are those parts of ourselves that we refuse hold a mirror to and confront. The most dangerous things in the abyss are silent and insidious, cloaking themselves in the everyday minuta of our lives, so that we do not even notice that they are there unless they come out to affect us directly.
Because I have a choice.
I still don’t know how to talk about race, but I’m going to say something anyhow.
So, this is my message to white people: “All lives” have “mattered” since Columbus didn’t discover the Americas. And by “all lives,” I mean the white ones. The reality is that “all lives matter” is really just code for the fact that the lives of people of color have not mattered. And don’t tell me you don’t understand that–if I rephrased this entire conversation to be about the entitlement of wealth or fame, you’d not be claiming such ignorance on the subject.
The phrase #BlackLivesMatter matters because the status quo–that “all lives (should) matter” means, in reality, that black lives, right now, right this minute, don’t.
Yes, it should rankle–the very fact that you think “oh, how dare they think their own lives should matter” should be a clue to your own bias. Complaining when another group demands the same rights that you already enjoy, implicitly or explicitly, civil or societal, makes you the problem.
#BlackLivesMatter because they’ve been living in a world where “all lives matter” for decades and the reality of “all lives matter” is that black men have a higher chance of being shot by police. Black lives matter because black people are more likely to be arrested for dealing drugs even though white people are more likely to be dealing them AND even though they use drugs at the same rate, white people are less likely to get arrested or go to jail. Black lives matter because NYC’s stop and frisk is targets minorities (and the idea that it “is working” is highly debatable when crime is declining anyhow). Black lives matter because black defendants are offered plea deals with prison sentences more often than whites, because they have cases dismissed more often than whites (due to lack of evidence), because they are less likely to receive reduced charges and more likely to be jailed before trial (because bail is generally higher for black defendants than white defendants accused of the same crime–one more example of how a jacked up system all-together is more so if you aren’t white). Black lives matter because white people are less likely to receive the death penalty. Black lives matter because we have a “justice system” where black lawyers are extremely underrepresented as elected prosecutors, black potential jurors routinely get dismissed, and because when a black judge who knows how the system works dares to fix it in his courtroom, the white commentary gets stupid.
And pointing out the egregious flaws and abuses in our judicial system and in law enforcement is NOT saying the “blue lives” don’t matter. Playing one off the other is a false dichotomy. It also creates a weaker and more distrusted policing system that is more prone to the escalation of violence in a dangerous feedback loop of fear and misunderstanding. And no, pointing out that there are very real problems in how police are selected, trained, utilized, in the methods they use, among other problems, does not mean that there aren’t good cops or that one is “anti-cop”. ”
There was never any doubt about the mattering of cops’ lives in this country. To say Blue Lives Matter is to falsely assert that the cops’ lives are undervalued and systematically discarded. They are not — no life should be — and the shootings in Dallas do not change that fact.”
Black lives matter because when black children go to the emergency room with the same level of reported pain for the same condition get prescribed pain medication less than white children, because women and blacks (and especially black women) are less likely to offered cardiac catheterization, because black patients receive worse care than their white counterparts in general (because racial bias makes us ignore pain), and because black patients are less likely to receive parity in preventive care.
Black lives matter because people (not just cops) are more likely to shoot quicker at a black person “target” than a white one. Black lives matter because when there’s a riot, the very worst offending white people get a pass from the media, from the police, and from the public as being “revelers” while black people (including the peaceful majority) get painted as “thugs”. Black lives matter because when a black person gets the idea to run for office in a chance to address these issues, and others, its harder for black people to get campaign funding to run for office.
Black lives matter because white people have less black friends than black people have white friends but somehow think that one black friend means they aren’t racist or that they are an expert on blackness. And the fact that white people have fewer black friends matters because when white people are taken out of their homogenous white neighborhoods and upbringing, white people are more likely to appreciate diversity when choosing a place to live…which essentially ,means we aren’t such assholes, even though it shouldn’t be black people’s responsibility to have to teach us that we shouldn’t be racist.
Blak lives matter because black people get screwed more when buying a car, screwed when they are prospective black home buyers buying a home (home ownership being a major component of the racial wealth gap). And as a result of all this getting jacked over by banks and sales people, black families are less likely to move up the socioeconomic ladder than their parents in comparison to white families.
Black lives matter because our society values my daughter’s life more than that of her “very first bestie ever”…and if you don’t believe it, then think about the names of missing children that you know from the media. How many of them are black?
Black lives matter because my husband’s coworkers were pulled over for driving while black after getting off of a 14-hour overtime shift (on a trip for Uncle Sam) through a nice (white) neighborhood (which happened to be where their hotel was) and the cops were assholes til the white guy in the back seat asked for their badge numbers. Black lives matter because a friend’s son got pulled over three times in his hour commute in as many weeks for being black and owning a new truck.
Black lives matter because my son gets an IEP with specific behavior modifications and goals for his ADHD and OCD but if he were black, he’d probably just as likely get suspended or expelled—even in preschool. Black lives matter because race plays a huge role in how teachers judge misbehavior in the classroom. Black lives matter because and black children have less access to advanced coursework being offered in their schools. Black lives matter because more families are turning to homeschooling as a way to avoid the institutional racism of the education system–a system that sets black children up by cutting them out of the system and sending them into the injustice system as adults in far greater numbers than white children.
Black lives matter because maybe some of the problems that their children face in school are a result of economic disadvantage in addition to racial bias. And guess what–that economic disadvantage is also racial. Black parents are less likely to work standard hours, which affect their children and their children’s education. And maybe they have to work the shitty job because ‘white’ names are more likely to get an interview for identical qualifications over a ‘black’ name (politicians are similarly less likely to respond to constituents with “black” names), white men with a record are more likely to be offered a job than black men without one, and once they have a job black employees receive harder scrutiny than white employees.
Racism may be often unconscious on an individual level, but that doesn’t mean there is less of it, just that it is less obvious. And when racism is perpetrated on an institutional level, it is a serious miscarriage of the justice we claim, as Americans, to believe in. Black lives matter because generations of slavery and discrimination have created an economic underclass that is disproportionally composed of minorities and has burdened them with conditions that would be difficult enough to get out of if it were just a matter of poverty. Black lives matter because its easier for white people to be upwardly mobile. This country’s default is white (and male) entitlement.
If one can’t examine their own bias and work to change it, then they are part of the makers of that travesty. The monster in the abyss is not wearing white sheets and burning crosses, the monster in the abyss is the racism that wears a suit and a smile, shaking hands with their one black friend at the dinner party on Friday but throws away the resume of a prospective employee with a “black name” Monday morning or fails to prescribe the same amount of pain medication that they’d give to a white patient presenting with the same symptoms…or that looks the other way when slavery is turned into a tiny house and lifelong time out.
I still don’t know exactly what I’d say or how I’d say it to that dad or those kids. I’m not generally comfortable with the random confrontation of strangers or with public shaming (to be honest, I think both are far more likely to cause denial and division and serve to entrench the original opinion rather than enlighten). But something needs to be said. And it starts with the elephant in the room–the monster in the mirror that is every single one of us.
We cannot claim to respect equality or individual achievements when we can’t even acknowledge that our society is based grossly in inequality and that individual achievement is easier for some than for others on the basis of melanin production. Black lives matter because some white people can’t wrap their heads around the idea that black lives (finally) getting to matter doesn’t negate the fact that white lives have always mattered.
Black lives matter because 2000+ words isn’t even the tip of the iceberg in describing the reality that all lives don’t really matter. Black lives matter because when black lives actually matter, all lives will finally matter.