Thursday, December 04, 2014

the need to wake up

This morning I am still wrestling with what I can do in the wake of the New York Grand Jury not to indict Daniel Pantaleo who has been accused of killing Eric Garner this past July.  They reached this decision despite there being video evidence of Officer Pantaleo using a banned "choke hold" on Mr. Garner, audio of Mr. Garner repeatedly telling the officer that he couldn't breathe, and the coroner ruling the death a homicide.  How could all of that not even warrant a trial to determine the facts more conclusively?  And with this decision coming on the heels of a similar decision in the case of Darren Wilson's alleged murder of Mike Brown, and within the context of the literally hundreds of cases of fatal encounters between young black men and law enforcement personnel ....  I'm wrestling with what to do.

I mean, I got up this morning and had to get my kids off to school and I had to get to work.  And while my job as a parish minister allows me a great deal of flexibility in how I use my time, I still have things that I have to do that have nothing to do with addressing racial inequalities in our culture.  (Not to mention disparities between gender expressions, economic status, sexual orientation, differing abilities, etc., etc., etc.)  And later on the dog has to be taken for a walk, and dinner has to be cooked, and Peter Pan LIVE! is on NBC tonight.

I don't really mean to be flip and, yet, I do want to drive home how easy it is for me -- as a liberal, white, heterosexual, middle class, well-educated man -- to put all of this other stuff behind me and return to my life "as normal."  And see, that's the thing -- as a white man I have been taught in so many ways, both explicit and implicit, that my life experiences are "normal."  I am free to choose where to go, and generally feel safe when I get there.  I won't be stopped by the police for no particular reason -- like, for instance, walking with my hands in my pockets on a cold day in Michigan.  I can even try to break into my car when I've locked myself out and no one will bat an eye.  Why?  Because I'm a white man and that means I'm given the benefit of the doubt, there's an assumption that I'm okay.  

But if I were black?  World famous scholar and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested in his own home because a neighbor had seen someone "suspicious" trying to break into a house.  Gates had forgotten his keys, and even though he had already changed into his bathrobe by the time the police arrived, and he could prove that the house was, in fact, his, he was still arrested.  As with Brandon McKean in Michigan, it seems that in the eyes of many, at least, black = suspicious.

Let me change that a bit.  I said, "in the eyes of many," yet even good liberal, non-racist folk will often hold their purses a little tighter, or cross the street, if they see a group of young black men walking down the street toward them.  It's not intentional.  It's not even conscious.  Racism is part of the air we all breathe and, as well all now know, even non-smokers are affected by second hand smoke.  We are all -- even the "good ones" of us -- infected by second hand racism.

If I were a person of color I would have no choice but to look at, deal with, the reality of racism in our culture.  I would be reminded on a daily -- perhaps even hourly -- basis of the systemic disparities which tend to put me at a disadvantage in innumerable situations.  I honestly and truly can't fully imagine what that would be like.

Because I have white skin.  So I have the choice to look at all of this or not.  I have the freedom to step away from my discomfort and into the safe normalcy that is whiteness.  I can choose to live in a world where racist actions are anomalies and where racists are a dying breed.  I can choose to live in a world where so much progress has been made that the President of the United States is an African American man.  This is a large part of what's meant by "white privilege" -- I have the privilege of being able to make these choices.

But here's the thing -- if I can choose to close my eyes and turn my back to these realities faced so regularly by people of color and nearly never by me and people who look like me ... well ... then I can choose not to, as well.  I can choose to keep my eyes open; keep my ears open; keep my heart open.   I can recognize the experiences of people of color as as real as mine even as they differ, even as I can recognize that some folks seriously love hip hop even though it doesn't sound like Beethoven.  And then, well then I might actually even start listening to hip hop and discover its incredible rhythmic and poetic complexity.  Similarly, when I come to recognize that there's a whole other world that I never have to experience, I can choose to begin to experience it as best I can ... stepping out of my safe bubble, taking what I'll call "racial risks" (the risk of saying or doing the 'wrong" thing), really listening to the experiences of people of color, and standing in solidarity with folks who have for too long had to stand alone.

What should I do in the wake of the recent Grand Jury verdicts?  Perhaps the first thing would be to wake up and open my eyes.  Then I can try to wake up as many people as I can.  Who will you wake up>

Pax tecum,

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1 comment:

arthurrashap said...

Isn't that what is going on with the protests going on now Wik? Isn't there just a whiff in the acrid air of a breeze of hope? If we can accept that we are a reactive society and that it is getting to be time to react, maybe, maybe there will be a force for change.

There's a problem, however. What is it that is being proposed as change - as a different way to move ahead? What is it that has a base and a reality?
What you (and me and 'they') can do, is think, is be creative in getting to a real solution that creates the "all men (and women and others) are created equal" and that they all need to be in a world that focuses on the spirit and not the bank account.
Arthur Rashap