The real problem I see with racism in America right now is that it’s become such a habit that a lot of folks don’t even know they’re doing it. When I’m writing, and I’m really on a roll, my leg starts bopping up and down, really fast, and totally on its own. I don’t even notice it until I stop to think what I want to write next and suddenly — hey! how did that happen?
It’s the same thing with racism. People have been trying so hard for so long to be “color blind” that they can’t see the problem for what it is: despicable. Like my leg bopping around they don’t know when it’s happening, how it started, or where in the heck did that habit start in the first place? It’s called an unconscious bias, if you care to know the social sciencey term. It means you have a preference for, or in this case against, something and you have no idea that you’re doing it.
Here’s the thing, though. When my legs is bopping up and down, and someone comes along and says why are you doing that? am I going to say what? I’m not doing anything! Actually, I might because maybe I didn’t notice. But when I stop for a moment to realize, or they point it out to me, what’s my reaction then? I’ll definitely say oh sorry, is that bothering you? I’ll stop. Then I will because I don’t what to be annoying. I don’t need anyone to feel uncomfortable in our shared space because of something I’m doing that I can just as easily stop. And I will absolutely become more aware of my body so that I can preemptively stop any accidental leg bopping that might occur later.
I’m not saying everyone’s like me, but most people are thoughtful. Most people just want to try to get along and share space and not cause shit. Of course there are those jerks on the fringes, there are always a few, but that’s the point they’re numbers are few.
So turning back to racism (and bigotry in general), do you see what I’m getting at? I think oodles and oodles of white folks in America are behaving in a racist manner because they don’t notice it. But the problem that’s loaded on top is they’re being accused of doing something that they’re not aware of and they’re PISSED. Nobody wants to admit to something they aren’t doing, even when they really are, but don’t know it yet. And by the way, these are the very people that are running to the GOP in droves because instead of taking a good look at themselves it’s easier to collectively say, NO! Quit calling me a racist. I don’t hate Mexicans because they’re brown, I hate them because they’re taking our jobs. I don’t hate blacks because of their skin color and kinky hair, I hate them because they’re killing cops. I don’t hate Muslims because I don’t understand them. I hate them because I’m scared of all the upheaval and violence in the world and they’re an easy scapegoat. Let’s face it, anger is always easy.
Do I have a remedy? Honestly, I can’t say that I do. I think the wisest thing I can say is, it’s gonna take time. Yes, it’s been 50 years since the Martin Luther King era of race relations in America. That feels like a long time, but the human race has been fighting over our differences for hundreds and thousands of years. Fifty isn’t even a drop in the bucket. I try to be an example, I suppose. And I write things that I hope might help others think about what they’re doing and why, and if it’s something they’re proud of themselves for. And that’s another thing, I see people all over the internet being proud of themselves: he lost 10 lbs! she graduated college with a 3.8 GPA! he started running again! she won a pie eating contest! Celebrate!
Yes, please do celebrate. But what if we started celebrating ourselves for being good and kind and thoughtful people, no matter what the situation? I’d like my social newsfeeds a whole hell of a lot better if we did <3
These shootings. This violence. How do we make it stop?
Every single time I hear a news story about a black man being shot by the police I am stunned. Like a jab to my solar plexus it pains me, it takes my breath away. I am left doubled over in fear, then shame, and with a sorrow that radiates through the whole of me.
Then, as though we’re living in some sick dystopian story, filmed in black and white and red, the media jumps in with gleeful headlines that may as well read, LET THE BLAME GAMES BEGIN!!! This violence and the the strife that comes with it means dollar signs to the media. And I am disgusted even more.
Our behavior – that of the black folks who get themselves shot, or the cops doing the shooting, or the gunmen demonstrating their sociopathic rage by targeting whatever group they hate most while armed to the teeth with firepower meant for the battlefield – none of that behavior can be explained in a 2.2 minute news segment. Never mind that, the media isn’t much interested in helping us gain a deeper understanding of the problems or the people involved. It doesn’t translate well to “the general public.” Nobody’s paying attention to the news ticker streaming across the bottom of the screen long enough to list the myriad reasons we’re in this mess.
But that’s what I keep thinking about. We’re focusing on the symptoms, not the cause. Progress can’t be made that way. How can we cure this cancer with an aspirin?
Alton Sterling was killed selling CDs in front of a convenience store. Let me step back from that, as consuming a picture as it is, and take a moment to ask a few questions. Why was he out there selling those CDs in the first place? Why are we not fighting harder to improve our economy? Why, in the United Goddamn States of America, does a grown man have to resort to selling CDs in front of a convenience store to put food in his belly? Why do we hate him because he lives in an impoverished community? Why do we fear him for it? Why is it so easy for him to carry a gun? Why does he only feel safe when he carries one? And why, oh why do so many Americans simultaneously use the color of his skin as a cause and a justification for his killing?
Five Dallas cops were picked off by a single gunman. Senselessly killed. It was blamed on Black Lives Matters, on every single person directly associated with the group and even those of us who support its necessity. But what about these questions: How did no one who knew that shooter not notice his hatred? Why was he not identified as on the very edge of insane behavior? Are we so self-centered, so afraid to butt in when we know someone is troubled, that we no longer feel the need to turn a man around? Instead we wait until after and point fingers. He should have found God. His family should have stepped in. He shouldn’t have had a gun like that. Maybe all of those things would have helped. But let me throw this out there: If it takes a village to raise a child, how is a person to go on without that same community support? WE failed that man. Our sense of community is broken and he is only a symptom of it.
And what about the cops doing that shooting? Which “that shooting?” Any of them.They take a human life and are put on administrative leave. Blue lives matter too, ya know. Oh, really? It never occurred to me that when a human life, a human heartbeat, is purposely stilled that I should have compassion. This part, to me, is incredibly frustrating. Of course all lives matter, but up until Trayvon Martin, America didn’t prioritize the life of every American. Up until that time we only prioritized the monied and the connected, the “respectable” folk. Which is to say we prioritized quality of life of White Americans. The rest be damned. So Black Lives Matters sprung up around the country to highlight that unfairness. The injustice of one group of people being held as more important than all others. The name of the group is not ONLY Black Lives Matters, so get off your high horse and use your brain for once, then take time out to show you have a heart.
But let me go back to the cops for a minute. Why are we hiring men and women who are so hungry to use lethal force? Why are they so distanced from the people in the communities they serve they’re so willing to pull a gun and shoot? What the hell ever happened to the motto To PROTECT and SERVE? Protect comes first. And as a cop, only protecting yourself is not what you signed up for.
Where is the training to manage a risky situation without a gun? Why is training not a bigger priority? As a nurse, I trained for three years to earn my RN. Every year after I was required to prove my skills were still accurate and to continue my training and education. Is that something police have to do? Because I definitely see a parallel here. Medical mistakes and negligence have been a priority topic in health care for a while now. The fewer mistakes, the better. Why are we not focusing our attention on police departments across the country in this same way?
Playing The Blame Game is much too fun. It’s much more engaging and makes better headlines. It gets our hearts pumping. But it’s so ugly. And that’s what saddens me the most. We Americans have become so ugly, so nasty. If our behavior had a smell, it would be worse than a ripe pig farm sitting in the middle of an industrial waste site. If it had a color it would be the color of evil, whatever that is to you. If it had a sound? Unfortunately it does have a sound. Gun shots. That’s the sound of our collective ugliness.
Now I need to collect myself and take a deep breath because here’s the thing. I wish I could end this with some witty something or other to give you hope. Honestly, I’m too disgusted and depressed for that. Instead, let me show you something I found in our front yard”
Here are two pictures of a Sunflower bloom. The first was taken three days ago, the second yesterday afternoon. Stop and think about that for a second… What a difference a couple days of bright, warm sunshine can make.
Go ahead, take that as a metaphor, if you like.
I was reading a story by my favorite short story author, Alice Munro, today, called “Pride.” There was a line in the story that made me stop what I was doing to write this piece. It reads, “Good use can be made of everything, if you are willing.”
The reason it stopped me in my tracks, so, was because it made me think of Barack Obama. It brought to mind all that he’s faced in the seven years he’s been president. I admire this man, for a lot of reasons, but if I’m honest? It’s his blackness that I admire the most. That sounds silly, I know, so let me explain:
It’s not that I admire President Obama for the color of his skin. Rather, I admire what he’s done with it. He’s allowed himself to be a flash point for racism. He became the President of the United States of America because he dared to be.
President Obama doesn’t make the color of his skin an issue. He doesn’t pander to anyone by using his blackness as a weapon, or a calling card, or as a social divider. No. He asks us to look beyond his appearance and see that he is an intelligent man who considers an issue fully, and thoughtfully, and then takes a stand. He demands that we remember the substance of a man is in his heart, not in his DNA.
But dared? Yes, I used that word, purposely. It’s an interesting word to use, right? Here’s why: There are millions of Americans who use it in the context of how dare he? As though some little colored kid should never dare to dream so high. He dared like, he thinks he’s so high and mighty. He dared to think he’s better than me? Not around these parts. Not in this house. Not on my watch. Did that make you cringe? I’m not sorry. It was intentional. Those ideas (and worse) are voiced in America — land of the free, home of the brave — all day every day.
Yes, he did dare. He dared to willingly make himself a target. He dared to run for the presidency of the United States in spite of our latent but rampant racism. I don’t know, maybe part of why he dared was because of it. Not out of spite, but because somebody had to shine a light on it some day, why not him?
And my, oh my, it sure is shining big and bright now, isn’t it? But how does this tie back to that quote from Alice Munro? “Good use can be made of everything…”
I believe that President Obama has made good use of the way racism silently infiltrated America. I believe that his brown face and kinky hair alone allowed all the closet racists to crawl out and let their racist flags fly. I believe, ultimately, that that’s a good thing.
I am sick of hearing the phrase “I’m not a racist, some of my best friends…” Because we all know how that story ends. We know it’s just a bunch of words people use to excuse their deeper beliefs and behaviors, and to dodge the more serious conversations. Our president made good use of America’s racism because, and I’m being my typical hopeful self here, what I hope is that we will begin again to have honest conversations about race and poverty and all the inequalities in our country. It’s the only way to finally move, as a nation, away from those things, and toward what is greater. Because, let’s be honest, we are not a great country, unless we all have a fair shot at greatness ourselves.
But we must be willing…