Monday, May 04, 2015

Riots or Uprisings ...

In 1784 Thomas Jefferson published his Notes on the Sate of Virginia.  In his chapter on slavery he proposes that slaves should be emancipated and then put on boats and sent back to Africa.  He rhetorically asks himself "Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expense of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave?"  He then answers himself with these words:
"Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race."
Take a moment to read that again.  Isn't this what we're seeing in Baltimore, and Seattle, and Chicago, and Ferguson?  "Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites" coming up against "the thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained," along with "new provocations"?

Malcolm X said:
"If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and pull it out 6 inches, that's not progress.  If you pull it all the way, that's not progress.  The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made.  They haven't begun to pull the knife out, much less heal the wound. They won't even admit the knife is there."
Some are beginning to say that we should really think of these "riots" as "uprisings."  Angry people, with "the thousand recollections of the injuries they have sustained [along with] new provocation," are responding not just to any particular specific instance of injustice, but to all they have endured and continue to endure.  Some are responding with control and strategy; others with unbridled rage run rampant.

I've also seen on the Internet this summation of the situation:  Black people are literally saying "Stop killing us!"  And there are people saying "But ..."  I can't imagine -- as a white person I really can't imagine -- how that feels.  But I can't imagine that it doesn't count as a "new provocation."

So what are we to do?  I guess that depends on who we mean by "we."  On April 29th, published Julia Blount's article (originally posted on her FaceBook page) "Dear white FaceBook friends:  I need you to respect what Black America is feeling right now."  We -- and by this I mean white Americans -- could begin by reading things like this.  The Unitarian Universalist blogger Kenny Wiley has written some wonderful things on his blog "A Full Day."  (His perspective, by the way, is that of an African American Unitarian Universalist millennial male.)  For a brutally honest big picture view of the background to what's happening pick up Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow:  mass incarceration in the age of color blindness.

Better than -- or, perhaps, in addition to -- reading is talking with people.  Again, to the primarily white folk who read this blog, talk with people of color you know.  And maybe better than "talk to" would be "listen to."  Listen to what they are thinking and feeling about all of this.  (And by "this" I don't mean just Baltimore, nor even just issues of police violence and the inequities of our justice system.  I mean anything having to do with the ways people of color and whites are treated differently from one another -- that thing called "systemic racism.")

If you don't know any people of color, you could talk with other white people.  But don't allow the conversation to fall into easy assumptions.  Question and, then, question again.  Challenge -- both the person with whom you're talking and yourself -- to see things from outside of your experiences of "normal."  Try to imagine the issues from as many different perspectives as you can.  Push yourselves to try to make sense of the things you can't understand and defend things you disagree with.  Broaden your perspective.

If you don't have people of color in your life with whom you can talk about these things ... ask yourself, "Why?"  See if there are things in the way you're living your life that are keeping you from making connections with African Americans, Latino & Latina Americans, Asian Americans (which, of course, encompasses a widely dispirit group of folks!).  Look for ways to begin putting yourself into situations where you can meet folks who don't look like, think like, you.  Tread lightly here, naturally.  You certainly don't want to create a single, token, "Black Friend."  Nor do you want to too soon assume the intimacy and trust that talking about race-related issues with someone of a different race requires.

For a moment I'm going to directly address Unitarian Universalists;  If you're a FaceBook user you might want to check out UUs Resisting New Jim Crow & Mass Incarceration, and Allies for Racial Equity.  (Consider joining that later one!)  For all of us: are you yet a member of the NAACP or the National Urban League?  Things to think about ...

Is what we're seeing in Baltimore and elsewhere a case of "riots" or is it an "uprising"?  I think the answer to that will rest mostly on our -- white -- shoulders.  Our brothers and sisters of color are giving voice to their outrage, their grief, their anger, and their exhaustion.  If it is to be more than that -- if it is to be a full-bodied, long-lasting assault on "the way things are," then it's going to take the involvement of those who most benefit from "the way things are."  As this blog puts it so well:  racism is a white problem.  But maybe, just maybe, we can come together not just to calm this violence but to eradicate its root cause and, so, avoid Jefferson's predicted, "convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race."


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