Monday, July 11, 2016

Just People

Trevor Noah said it best: It is perfectly possible to believe that Black Lives Matter AND that the lives of police matter. I can hold those two thoughts in my head at the same time, and I see no contradiction.

I feel affronted when I hear white people in my life express the idea that black people pose a danger to police. It was one shooter in Dallas; but even if it had been twenty, or one hundered, and all of them black, and all of them hating white people and the white police and the Black Lives Matter movement, (as did the shooter in Dallas), they still wouldn't have represented the motivations or actions of anyone but themselves. To believe otherwise is, frankly, racist--and I say that with a heavy heart, knowing that it could drive a wedge through some friendships.

I was chatting with my friend Ron the other day. We were talking about parenting, and how we were both working on being better parents (actually, he was working on it, and I subsequently realized that I should be working on it, too). That was last Wednesday. The next morning, Philando Castile was shot by police in Minneapolis, and Alton Sterling was killed by police in Louisiana.

Suddenly, even the weighty topic of parenthood and its attendant anxieties seemed trite. Ron is black. I didn't know what to say about all of this to him without sounding like I was apologizing on behalf of all white people, as if he were all black men. I decided not to attempt to tackle this gaping wound with one well-worded text. It was not a situation that lent itself to pith.

I had been reconnected with Ron because of our mutual affection and history, and then, not 24 hours later, disconnected from him (temporarily, I hope) by the latest outrageous examples of racism in our criminal justice system.

I am white. I live on a bucolic farm in Wisconsin (far from Louisiana and Dallas, but not far from Minneapolis, and certainly not from Madison, which has had its own examples of police violence against black people). I may be horrified, outraged, and saddened by these events--and I will worry about my friends who are black--but I know that I will all-too-quickly shift my focus to the details of my life. My mood and focus will drift.

The implications of these stories do not apply to me, directly; they don't strike exactly the same chord, because I am not going to be a victim of police violence, and my son isn't going to be a victim of police violence, because we are white. I also don't have any loved ones on the police force.These things make a big difference in how I experience these events. However appalled and disturbed I may feel, it's still basically news. It's still happening to someone else, and though I may catch my breath as I hear of it, and feel the joy sucked out of the room, still my day will proceed as planned.

I have in-laws who are Moslem. Over the years, we remained close. Maybe we didn't talk very often, but when we did, we could pick up where we left off. But, that's changed in recent years. I didn't know what to do or say when the tide of anti-Moslem feeling rose up, threatening to drown out all reason. I failed to call and express my concern because I didn't want to place us in the position where I was speaking as a white person to a Moslem person. That was never how it was before; but now, with everything that's happened, that is undeniably the elephant in the room.

And yes, I know it's probably stupid. I should have called a dozen times to express my support. Even if it was awkward and imperfect, it would have been better than nothing.

What I did instead was to write in this blog, as I am doing now. Here, I hoped to articulate what I couldn't say on the phone or in a text. Here, I hoped to express my solidarity with social justice and the enormous value of confronting attitudes of prejudice and racism. Here, I hoped to openly and honestly express my views with reason and love, and not to drive more wedges between people.

Racism, and not race, makes us different. Without it, we are family. Without it, we are friends. Without racism, we are a just people. Without it, we are just people--people who can talk together about small things, like raising children and striving to be better parents.


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