Tuesday, December 02, 2014

to look clear-eyed and what's happening all around us

I am angry.  I'm heartbroken.  I despair.  I feel impotent.  My heart keens and my soul is screaming.

Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

Akai Gurley in Brooklyn.

Aura Rain Rosser in Ann Arbor.

Tanisha Anderson in Cleveland.

Roshad McIntosh in Chicago.

Darien Hunt in Saratoga Springs.

Ezell Ford and Omar Brego in Los Angeles.

Eric Garner, Kajieme Powell, Vonderitt D. Meyers, Jr., John Crawford III, Cary Ball Jr., Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Stewart, Eula Love, Amadu Diallo, Oscar Grant, Patrick Dorismond, Malice Green, Tyisha Miller, Sean Bell, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Margaret LaVerne Mitchell ...

I could go on, of course.  I could go on, but I'd have to go on, and on, and on.  The Stolen Lives Project has collected data on over 2,000 cases of people killed by law enforcement in the 1990s alone.  (You can put a face to some of the names here.)

Were all of these people people of color?  No, but the vast majority were.  The incidents of violent interactions between law enforcement and citizens skews overwhelmingly along racial lines.  (And a Google search on the phrase "racial disparities in police violence" yields more evidence than any reasonable person could need.)

Were all of these people innocent?  Of course not, yet there are far, far too many cases of innocent people being beaten or shot by police officers, and of these the victims were predominantly young men of color.

Law enforcement personnel have an extraordinarily difficult job.  They must decide -- often with virtually not time -- how to respond to threatening and seemingly threatening situations.  I would not want to do what they have to do, and I do believe that the majority of police officers are good people trying to do good things and are not secretly "gunning for black people."

Yet we live in a culture that still considers white, heterosexual men the norm and which casts people of color (and women, and homosexuals, and ...) as Other.  Brown skinned men, and in particular young brown skinned men are seen as "dangerous" and "threatening" by white skinned people -- consciously or unconsciously.  Think of how typical it is for a white person to feel ever-so-slightly apprehensive when they see a black man walking down the street toward them.  It's unconscious.  It's instinctive.  It's reinforced by countless means, both subtle and overt.  (And by "countless" I really do mean that there are far too many ways to count that reinforce these stereotypes.)

And, so, in this context -- the real world in which we live -- it almost doesn't matter if, in any particular case, the shooting is "justified;" there are always exceptions.  But the pattern ... the pattern is where the problem is.  It is the pattern of unjustifiable police targeting of people of color for violence that leads to the cry, "Black Lives Matter!"

It seems to me that one would have to be willfully looking away not to see what is happening.  And, so, I am angry.  I'm heartbroken.  I despair.  My heart screams and my soul is keening.  And I feel impotent.  What can I do -- a straight, white, middle class, well-educated, minister ensconced in a bubble of privilege?  What can I possibly do from here -- from my own lived experience -- to make any kind of change?  Joseph Osmundson and David J. Leonard, in an essay on Huffington post, name "12 Things White People Can Actually Do After the Ferguson Decision."  It is well worth reading, and all thinking white people should not only read it but follow all the links, as well.

The other thing I can do -- and you can do, too, if you find yourself in the privileged position of being white in this society -- can take advantage of our white privilege and speak up ... speak out.  The world -- okay, let's be honest, the white world ... the dominant world -- listens more closely when a white person speaks out.  And if you're a white male, all the better.  So, if you need to, pull your head out of the obfuscating fog and look clear-eyed and what's happening all around us.  (Just because it's not your experience does not mean it's not happening.)  And then talk about it.  Post on FaceBook and Twitter.  Bring it up at holiday parties (a risk, sure, but nowhere near the risk of "walking while black" has become).

Prove that black lives matter.  Prove that all lives matter.

Pax tecum,


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arthurrashap said...

A road map on how to move from acknowledgement/frustration/anger/helplessness to 'what can I/we do' is set forth in the book: Spontaneous Evolution.
Read it and let us all come together in community to take action.
Arthur Rashap

RevWik said...

Can you give a synopsis, Arthur?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, as always, for your thought-provoking blog. Your "12 Things" link is not working. It should point to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-david-j-leonard/12-things-white-people-ca_b_6222784.html

And speaking of racism, Debbie Reese's comments on Peter Pan are worth reading. You can find her on Twitter.