Surprise! I Think Black Lives Matter

In an opinion that should shock no one that knows me (I'm as liberal as they come - but, I think it's safe to say I read pretty much everything out there, including right wing sources, which you'll see from things I use), I am heartbroken about what is going on in our country. I literally lost sleep over it last night, and probably will tonight too. Sometimes, it helps me to get it off my chest. I don't expect anyone to read what I ramble about, but here's what I had to say to myself about it:


I.

I couldn’t sleep last night, and I’m up way too early now. None of that is good for my poor recovering brain, but I feel selfish worrying about that. I tossed and turned, ached and cried, spasmed and whimpered. I was bursting with physical pain and emotional turmoil. I write every day, because I’m bursting not to. I write, polish and publish when the thing I have to say is too important to me not to say to others, even if they don't listen.

The recent news of two more black men killed by police, the strain on police departments because of it; and now, the violence and deaths in Texas has kept me thrashing around, worrying for both our nation, and for the dead.

I was struck, by the video of the boy, crying, as his family delivered a message to the media.

When I was young, it was ingrained it me that, when I saw black people on the news, that their intense grief was nothing but a show of histrionics. It still doesn’t make sense to me, as I can’t imagine whose benefit these, supposed, false shows of emotion could be for. It took me a long time to un-train myself from hearing wails as false, or seeing tears as crocodile. I’m ashamed for ever thinking this, even for a second.

Like everyone in the world, I’m an ego-maniac, and I connect everything back to me. How is something about me?  How does the thing I’m seeing or feeling relate to me? Why is it bothering me so much?

As I watched this video, it occurred to me: this boy’s life is forever changed, in a way he never, ever wanted. It’s not unlike how my life is changed, but his is in a far worse way. He woke up today, and now he’s going to go forward, forever, in a way he’s not chosen. I wake up today, going forward, in a way that I’d never have chosen. He’s being forced to give up someone he’d not have given. I’ve been forced to give up so very much that I’d never have given. I know what it’s like to be forever altered by something that I didn’t chose.

It sounds melodramatic, but it’s true on its most basic level. My fundamental life choices, like his, are not mine anymore. Indignities chip away at you, small, at first, until you are a former marathon runner, picking up a permanent handicapped placard. You need it, because your stupid brain gets overwhelmed, and you get lost at supermarkets; and, if you don’t park near the door, you wouldn’t be able to find the damn car. Oh, and you’d better use a cart while you are there, or you’ll lose your balance and fall into the canned peaches.

I picture this boy, his life being slowly chipped away at, too. First, he’s stuck in a shitty community, probably called the n-word a time or two, harassed by police, perhaps he drops out of a shitty school; then, he loses his father at a simple traffic stop. Now, he will forever be the boy on the news, falling into his family for support. The boy with the dead dad. That never goes away. Maybe that's why he, in particular struck me? I don't know.


II.

Raised in a suburb of Detroit, I was taught all of the requisite Civil Rights things at school. I’d challenge anyone to find an area of America where racism is much worse, and I don’t mean the KKK-type racism, or the cross-burning-on-the-lawn-type, I mean the quiet-type, where people think they aren’t racist at all. Although, now that I’m watching the rise of King Trump, maybe I’m wrong about my hometown; most of America seems to be like where I grew up, I just didn’t know it.

This is quiet racism; and I think that the quiet-type of racist is the worst kind, because they don’t know they have a problem. They’ll deny it until their dying day, even to themselves. They “have black friends” that are different than “regular” black people. They think there should be a White History month too. They think Affirmative Action is biased against white people; and while they’re at it, they believe that white men are the most disenfranchised people in America. They don’t hate anyone, but they’re pretty sure that the black woman down the street is on welfare, even though she’s got a nice car, and how many men come to and from her house? Which one is the father of her children? How many baby-daddies does she have? How did she even afford this neighborhood? They roll their eyes, and Facebook-blast anyone they see on EBT, if God forbid, they should pull their card out of a nice wallet, or if it’s nestled next to an iPhone.

Black History Month rings clear in my memories of childhood. Carmen Harlan, one of the most beautiful black women in the world, anchored our local newscast, and Rosa Parks lived in our local area. Our area did a lot of feature stories on her, throughout my childhood. But, all I remember was a lot of whining about how, here we go again with her, and how all she did was not stand up. There were a jokes about how maybe she was just tired, or maybe she was just, gasp, lazy. I remember repeating them, and wish to hell that I hadn’t.

I ALWAYS use photos I have a right to use, but I have NO right to this image. Don't tell on me :) I looked EVERYWHERE for a non copyrighted image of Carmen Harlan, but I couldn't find one. As a penance, here's how you can find it (and an unflattering story about her, frankly). This is her publicity shot from Local 4 news, and this is a historical shot of Rosa Parks.

I ALWAYS use photos I have a right to use, but I have NO right to this image. Don't tell on me :) I looked EVERYWHERE for a non copyrighted image of Carmen Harlan, but I couldn't find one. As a penance, here's how you can find it (and an unflattering story about her, frankly). This is her publicity shot from Local 4 news, and this is a historical shot of Rosa Parks.

When Rosa Parks came across the screen, and the whole month of black history coverage began, it was like my household began a colonoscopy, something to be endured, that was supposedly good for you, and that you might make good-natured jokes about enduring: “Hey doc, how’s it lookin’ down there? I cleaned house for ya! Ha Ha!” It should be noted that, while her funeral was lavish and ornate, she died penniless. We loved her once a year, and when she was gone, apparently.

I was raised in a town that called black squirrels, squiggers. I was so imbedded in quiet racism that, years later, after I was married, I pointed one out, and said it to my husband. Even then, after I’d shed most of the indoctrinated racism, that tiny bit had remained. I didn’t catch it, before I’d said it, or even automatically thought it, apparently; but, as soon as the word fell out of mouth, I felt it on my tongue, as if it tasted bad. I realized that I had been saying it, thinking harmlessly, my whole life. Quiet racism: the worst kind. It seeps in, and you don’t even know it’s there.

A black squirrel, not that other name - photo credit Robert Taylor

A black squirrel, not that other name - photo credit Robert Taylor

I grew up thinking that the only difference between MLK and Malcom X was that MLK was the good one who peacefully talked to the blacks about getting stuff, and that Malcom X was the one who taught them that violence was the only way. I grew up thinking that affirmative action would keep me from getting my fair share. I was taught that welfare queens were taking my hard earned money, and that they were almost all welfare queens below 8 Mile. I was taught that they make baby after baby, just for the check, and that’s their only source of income, that or drugs. I heard how they sound, with ridiculous imitations of Ebonics, and that education is always a choice of work ethic. I was taught these things, but none of them are true.

I was taught, worst of all, that reverse racism is worse than racism, and that black people hate us worse than we hate them. I was taught to fear reprisal from black people, and that they were, mostly, out to get me, as punishment for what my ancestors, had done to their people. Or worse, they were after me for that intangible piece of something they thought they deserved from me that I had to protect with all I had because it was mine not to share. I worked hard for my piece and they hadn't, so I had to hold fast to my piece, even though I was still a kid, and hadn't learned yet what work meant, I had been taught that, somehow, I had earned my place in the schema of mine versus theirs.

I have a child of my own, and it occurs to me how malleable a child’s mind is. I want him to know none of these terrible things about my fellow man. When he looks at a black man, woman, or child, I want him to see nothing but possibility, nothing but the potential for good, the same as when he looks at any man, woman, or child. I don’t want him to look at a black man suspiciously, just in case. And, that’s what we are teaching him. We aren’t teaching him quiet racism, that everyone is the same…mostly. We’re teaching him that everyone is the same.

We live across the street from a black man. He’s a fire chief. I don’t want him to see that that black man is okay because he’s a fire chief, employed, and is one of the good ones, as I would’ve been taught. I want him to see a fire chief. I want him to see the guy who has the cute dog. I want him to see the man who sometimes brings the fire engine home. I want him to see his friend’s dad. If he sees that he’s black, I want it to see that as the last thing on the list of his descriptors.

III.

This is what #blacklivesmatter is all about. It comes from a space of pure frustration. We must stop, not only to notice that we've taught our children this, but also to notice the worst. We have to recognize that our fellow black men and women, are being put in dangerous situations more often than our white brothers and sisters; and when we see this, we have to step up to protect them, by noticing the problem, together.

I can’t condone all of their tactics, but I can recognize the place of frustration that it comes from. I am a lifelong member of PETA; I don't love everything they do, but I do believe in their message. The same holds here with #blacklivesmatter. You can't throw the baby out with the bathwater when something goes wrong.

Even the organizers are frustrated with the level of violence the movement has reached, with the deaths in Texas last night. No one, and I mean, NO ONE wants police officers to die. No one wants anyone to die. That’s the whole point.

Today, the half of the country that wasn’t infuriated at the deaths of two innocent black men is irate at the deaths and injuries of five police officers killed (and seven injured). The “war” seems to begin with shots like this volleyed:

Why so aggressive? Why so divisive? The argument being that #blacklivesmatter is divisive, I assume? It's not. It's meant to say, "Hey, we need your help, white people! Notice us!"

Why so aggressive? Why so divisive? The argument being that #blacklivesmatter is divisive, I assume? It's not. It's meant to say, "Hey, we need your help, white people! Notice us!"

And, it gets worse with former Rep Joe Walsh, and veteran policy advisor to republican leaders, who said, in his (smartly!) deleted tweet: " 3 Cops Killed. 7 Wounded. This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out Black Lives Matter Punks. Real America is Coming after you." Pause for a minute, and take that in. If you aren't angry at that guy, you are a huge part of the problem. He's inciting violence against the President of your country; he's literally talking about a race war (which lots of conservatives claim President Obama incites every time he speaks); and he's, in no uncertain terms, dividing America into two camps: us versus them.

We don’t have to be on one side, or team, or the other. The majority of police officers are good, upstanding men and women, who abhor what’s happening. We can’t function in a society without police. We don’t need to see a viral video of a police officer buying a destitute woman a car seat; or of a bunch of them playing basketball with some kids, to know that good police officers exist. Equally, we don’t need to see viral stories of black kids getting scholarships to ivy league schools to know that good black kids exist.

We don’t need to be on one side, or the other. We need to be equally outraged when we see innocent men gunned down, as when we see police officers killed by a lunatic who couldn't take the frustration anymore. Instead, half of America gets mad one day; and the other half gets mad the next. The first half waits for Fox News to tell them that the innocent men were actually “thugs,” with drug arrests in their background. Or, at the very least, they wait for some photos of them with baggy jeans and dreadlocks. That same first half is, now, full of rage the next day, when police officers are killed, forgetting entirely about innocent men, except in the context that they get to be grouped in the mass of they who are responsible for the madness of ONE man, killing men in blue. The second half, who was angry the first day, stays angry the whole time, except they are saddened the second day, to have their cause muddied by more senseless violence.

All it would take would be for the middle-of-the-roaders, the fence-posters, the quiet racists to shake off their airs and realize that they are not who they are pretending to be: they are racists, not a Benetton ad. If they realized that they were the racists they think they aren’t, I believe that the overwhelming majority of them would be ashamed, and change their ways. It’s time for those who claim that #alllivesmatter to realize that their quiet racism isn’t just part of the problem, it is the problem. No one ever said white people weren’t important; we’re just saying that, today, right now, black people are the ones in trouble, so let’s focus on how to fix it. Let’s address the problem. Stop throwing a tantrum about not being included in the title, and pay attention to the people that are being gunned down for, literally, no reason.

Source: Occupy Democrats, propublica.org. analysis of deadly force shows "outsize risk for young black males" (2014). I'm not a big fan of inflammatory memes with no data to back them up, but this is data, hard data. We can't ignore it, and neither should young black males.

Source: Occupy Democrats, propublica.org. analysis of deadly force shows "outsize risk for young black males" (2014). I'm not a big fan of inflammatory memes with no data to back them up, but this is data, hard data. We can't ignore it, and neither should young black males.

Ask yourself this, and be honest about the answer:

 

If you can say, truly, that you’d be the only one to stand up, then you can keep telling yourself that #alllivesmatter. I wouldn't stand up. I am not happy with their arrest rate being higher. I'm not happy that I don't have to tell my son how to behave differently when he's pulled over. I'm not happy that he automatically has better access to schools, neighborhoods, jobs and, literally, everything. I'm not happy that I automatically have better access to healthcare, money and wealth.

I don’t know what I can do, as a middle class white girl, dripping with privilege, to actively help, except to stand up, and say, that I’m with you. I agree that #blacklivesmatter. I cannot stand idly by anymore and pretend that they don’t. It's uncomfortable to admit, aloud, for some people, that #blacklivesmatter, because for some, they take it as an insult. If you take it as insult, you are a quiet racist. You are one of those that I just wrote about, who thinks you need to be counted in #alllives matter. Wake up. This isn't your problem; you aren't being killed, needlessly, right now.

I won't sit in the comfortable space, where I don't offend anyone, by saying #alllivesmater. I will sit where it's uncomfortable with my white people, but be in the right place, and say #blacklivesmatter, loud and proud. I will not scream #bluelivesmatter, despite the fact that they DO. They matter EVERY day. I won't scream it louder than #blacklivesmatter for one simple reason: when we do, we cloud the issue and pretend it's a team, where one has to win. We know blue lives matter. Everyone does. Let's not play red herring on that one. Let's talk about why we're here: to stop seeing our fellow Americans, our black fellow Americans, dead in our streets. I love our law enforcement officers, including my law enforcement friends, and I value their lives as well. Valuing one, does not mean I don't value the other. I refuse to play teams.

I stand with President Obama on this one:

He ordered the flags on military installations, embassies, etc flown at half-staff today, through July 12, in honor of the slain officers. The shame is that had he done the same for the murdered black men,  he'd be seen as race-baiting. It wouldn't be the first time he's been accused of that. He's in a terrible position because he's black, which is unfortunate for him.

It took me a long time to realize that crocodile tears weren't a thing, and calling black squirrels something awful was not cool. It took me a long time to realize that my neighbor was just a fire chief, and not a black fire chief. It took me a long time to realize all of those things I'd been taught were bullshit. And, no one likes the idea of hearing that they are probably a racist, but it needs to be heard; and, it needs to be said. If they can't start hearing it, I think, our country is headed toward a meltdown of Civil Rights proportions.

These days, I’m basically assumed to be one of “those,” a crazy liberal bleeding heart; or, more simply: an idiot, or a fool. But, there are worse things to be assumed to be than a fool. I could be a racist fool.

#blacklivesmatter