The Chasm

As we watch, this nation sinks deeper and deeper into a pit of false narratives, confabulation and outright lies. We watch as men are murdered on the street by those sworn to ‘protect and serve.’

Ahmaud Arbery, 25 years old gunned down on the street in daylight 23 February 2020

Manuel Ellis, 33 years old restrained and beaten to death on the street by police 3 March 2020

Breonna Taylor, 26 years old shot 8 times in her bed by the police 13 March 2020

George Floyd, 46 years old choked on the street by a knee to the neck 25 May 2020

Those are the names we know in the space of 92 days; these are not the only names; these are the names we are hyper-aware of today.  George Floyd was our wick, lighting the flame of our shared outrage.

I have struggled for days on how to write this. I am not a Black American; I cannot write from that perspective as I do not have that lived experience. All I can do is write from my own deeply felt beliefs. Ultimately, what finally set the groundwork was two different perspectives, one from a younger sister and one from a long time and dear friend. Each of their comments caused me pause and thought, each of them has very different life experiences, to one I owe an apology and with the other, I continue to debate.

“I think black people suffer from Generational PTSD and I recently came to realize that I suffer from it as a Black Man living the black experience in America”

“What are you willing to give up to assure justice, equality and an end to racism?”

My immediate and visceral response to the second is ‘nothing’; it is a zero-sum game. This response infuriates my sister and all her social media activist followers. I understand their fury. Let me try to unwind this as far as I am able.

White Privilege is something new to our lexicon to describe the unearned opportunity those born to their ‘Whiteness’ enjoy. Though this has been a field of study for decades, it did not become a broadly discussed phenomenon until 2014 when Black Lives Matter begin to use it widely.

Is every interaction between a White person and a Black person going to end badly? Of course not. Does every aggressive interaction have its roots in racism? No, some are simply two people with an issue to resolve. The truth is sometimes, bad acts are only bad acts and ugly merely is ugly.

Why do we get so offended by the White Woman in the park calling the police on the Black Man watching birds or asking her to put her dog on the leash? Why do we get so offended by the White Man demanding proof of the Black Man’s residency in that building?  Why are we so offended by the White Woman demanding the Hispanic Woman speak English in the checkout line? We are offended because, after 400-years of pathological inequalities and racial bias, we only have one way to understand them. We only have one way to hear the 9-1-1 call with the description of the Black Man or the Black Woman, despite this is an accurate description, we hear Racial Bias and we also know there is decades police bias on the other end of that call.

Tamir Rice was a 12-year old boy when he was murdered in the park within two-seconds of the police arriving after a 9-1-1 call on 23-November-2014. All of the media surrounding his murder by police tried to paint Tamir as bigger than his age, thus a threat, the toy gun he was playing with somehow manipulated to appear ‘real.’ Later, the media painted his parents as violent criminals, leading to the conclusion that his murder was both their and his own fault. The truth is, the man who made the call identified him as an African American in the park, pointing a gun at random people, he also identified him as a ‘probably’ a juvenile and the weapon as ‘probably’ fake. Ultimately his murder was deemed justified by a Grand Jury, despite the cop who pulled the trigger had lied on his application having previously been found not emotionally fit for duty by another police force.

Why is Tamir’s story important?

He was a child murdered by police; we, White People, accepted his murder; we did not mourn him as we should have. We did not demand justice for this young boy, as we should have. We accepted as reasonable the murder by police of a young African American boy in the park while playing with a toy gun.  We failed, abysmally, to demand justice for so many other young Black men in the proceeding years leading up to the murder of Tamir. We, White People, did not look at these murders and ask ourselves, ‘if these were my child, would I be as passive as I am today because it is theirs?’

That acceptance, the lack of concern is the true measure of White Privilege.

We failed to listen to the weeping of the mothers and fathers of these dead children and we failed to mourn with them.

With the murder of George Floyd, we are offended, perhaps even outraged. I think we are still trying to smooth out the issue of Racism in Mr. Floyd’s murder. But finally, we are unable to ignore the truth that 400-years of systemic injustice done to our fellow man within the borders of our nation led to the murder of George Floyd.

So why do I say I am unwilling to give up anything?

I do not want to see all of us with ‘less than,’ instead, I want to see all of us with more. If there is a privilege I have that another does not have, tell me what it is I will work without rest to ensure it is no longer mine alone. If there is a wall we need to tear down, let’s do it together, systemic racism exists; the majority of us know it now; it is visible and cannot be ignored. We should not be poorer when the fight is done; we should all be richer. This is why I say I will not give up anything; I want my friends, my brothers and sisters to have what I have not less than but precisely what I have. I want there to be no light between us.

Will it be a fight?

Yes, of course. There will always be those who fear the change that will come. There will always be those who hate; it is not possible to change hearts with laws. But for me? I don’t want to give up a damn thing; I want there to be no question of equality. The truth, it is not possible to change 400-years of history; it is not possible to wipe out original sins with apologies, gifts, or money. Nothing will change history; we can though change our future.  We can demand new and better laws. We can demand investments where there has been none before. We can unwind anything that prevents a future free of systemic racism and begin the process of education inclusive of real history. We can make racism so painful to those who practice it they will slowly become a pariah in our communities, unhirable and ultimately without friends or support systems.

What can we do? We can demand justice. We can listen. We can be allies. If it is the last thing we do, let’s use our White Privilege to demand change in our systems and ensure our neighbors, friends and family enjoy the same privilege we unwittingly enjoy. What can we do today? We can speak up when we see something. We can demand our elected officials do the right thing rather than what is convenient. Ultimately, we can vote. Remove those in office at every level high and low; local, state and federal who stand in the way of change.

That is what we can do, individually and together, we are the change.

Too Late

Screenshot (1944)Do not tempt a desperate man

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 5 Scene 3

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Is fear the only thing we feel as we stare through the open window into the future, certainly seems this might be the truth of it, at least for many of us.

The question must be asked, what is it we fear? The better question is, what do those in power fear.

Is it the future itself; is it the unknown and unknowable? Or is it something else, something we can see out of the corner of our eye that frightens the hell out of us. Is it the loss of something most of us don’t have but are certain we could if only, what?

If only, something would happen the way it was promised, by all those damnable slick men way back in the day who said to us, it was them folks over there who were sucking up what was ours, taking away our jobs, our tax dollars and if we voted for them they would make it right. Those slick politicians who said if we would pay a bit more so the ‘job creators’ could pay a great deal less, itimages would trickle down to us, you know we would be lifted up with them and those moochers and leeches would be left behind in the gutters where they belonged. If only, it would begin to happen the way it was promised way back when St. Ronnie started telling us the Gospel of Trickle Down and the Parable of the Welfare Queen.

What is it they fear?

I think I know what it is so many in this nation truly do fear. They fear the loss of power. They fear the loss of autonomy. They fear the loss of true majority and the loss of privilege. They fear they will no longer be able to walk through the world with complete sovereignty over every speck of dirt their feet touch and the assurance no person can push them off their pedestal.

That is what they fear and that fear is palatable. It is clear in the laws passed to prevent people from going to the polls and from voting even when they get there. It is clear in the militarization of police forces across the nation, the shift from ‘protect and serve’ to ‘command and control’. It is clear as the corruption of justice becomes blatant, supported by corporate media and corporate owned politicians. It is clear as prison systems become private, corrupt and for profit feeding the greed of the same small feudal lords who own the defense contracts, the militarization of the police, the guns on our streets, our state houses and Washington.

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What is it they fear?

I will tell you what they fear. They fear the loss of Whiteness as a sign of Good and Right. They fear the loss of control. They fear the loss of Power. They fear they might not be the biggest, baddest monster in the woods and it scares the living hell out of them. What are they doing? They are trying hard to crush all dissent by any means necessary. They have been doing so for years, decades really. For a brief moment in time, it shifted, but not really what happened is things calmed down and we all looked in a different direction. The truth of the matter is, it is hard as hell to wrest power from the hands of those who have it. It is difficult to convince those who are hanging on to let go, to fall backwards that someone will catch them.

I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it. If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1960 in response to racist signs held up during a motorcade in Tennessee

It seems we haven’t come far since the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Johnson. The difference between today and 1960, we have a Black President the hate, fear and outright disrespect shown towards him and his family has escalated to a fever pitch in direct response to the fear of the White Man, no matter their place on the economic scale. Oddly, it is predominately the poor and ignorant who hate him, in fact the lower on the economic ladder the more vehemently the hate is expressed.

What do they fear?

Those in power, fear dissent, ultimately they fear the loss of power and thus they are doing everything they can to retain their power. They are crushing the spirit of this nation. They are crushing everything that could make us great, humiliating, imprisoning and killing communities and people. They are dividing us, making those of us who should come together in common cause enemies instead. They are destroying our education system, making each generation more ignorant than the last. We are allowing this, we are buying the pabulum they are selling; sucking at the tit of mass consumerism as if we were starving and they are the sow of plenty.

We sit back and nod our heads, sit on our hands, stare stupidly at the television screen and agree as some overpaid and under-informed talking head delivers lie after lie to our living room, then we repeat it to our friends and family as if it were gospel. We allow and enable the rich and powerful to create a storyline of criminal history for every single unarmed Black Person killed by the police, armed citizen or vigilante. Remember they are the enemy of Whiteness, Rightness and all ‘we hold dear’.

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We sit back and nod our heads as families are broken and the pipeline is filled from school to prison, we say not one single thing as schools crumble with not a single cent spent for infrastructure, school improvements, education improvements. Meanwhile prisons continue to be built nationwide and the vast majority of them are filled from those very schools that are crumbling. The false picture being painted, the constant harping of ‘Black-on-Black’ crime with no mention of ‘White-on-White’ crime, no mention of how often one is prosecuted over the other, no mention of outcomes resulting in long prison sentences to feed the for profit system.

What do they fear?

I think they fear we might figure it all out and we just might come together. We just might reach across the vast barrier and rise up. We just might overthrow the oligarchy, the feudal lords of profit and greed before it is too late.

What do you fear? I fear it might be too late.

It Starts With Me

LVal_2010When I look in the mirror, I don’t see Privilege. I do not think to myself, well today when I go to the store I will be treated well, store security will not follow me, the lady at checkout will not demand two pieces of identification if I write a check. I don’t think the police will likely let me go with a warning if I drive a few miles over the speed limit; no one will follow me if I am somewhere, in some neighborhood I have never been before looking at houses.

When I roll out of bed and consider my day, I don’t think to myself, “Damn, I am so lucky I was born White.”

Do you, or if like me your skin is White and your heritage is mixed bag of European American you simply take for granted the beginning of another day and never consider what it means to be fundamentally, you as in your racial identity.

When I look in the mirror, I see crow’s feet and think, “Shit they are getting longer and deeper”.

When I look in the mirror, I see the reverse skunk stripe down my part and think, “Dang, time for another touch up”.

I do not however ever see my racial identity in stark terms. I don’t see it and wonder how it might affect my life today.

What I don’t do is wonder what I should wear to the local market, it doesn’t matter what I wear, they will still treat me as if I matter. Even if I don’t do anything more than sort of comb my hair or just run water through it and hope for the best, throw on yoga pants and a tee shirt. Not one person in that store would ever think to wonder just what the hell I was doing there, I belong; my skin tone gives me the right, the privilege of belonging.

Never thought about how I was lucky, fortunate in comparison simply based on my much paler skin. What I considered were those things I could not change about myself that made my life more difficult;

  • I was born a woman.
  • I am getting older.
  • I had been divorced and financially ruined in that divorce.
  • I had been hurt and left with disabilities.

These things, some which are simply characteristic to my birth and others, which are part of life, affect my ability to find work and sometimes advance, stay productive, earn a living, prepare for my retirement and be financially stable.

They are frankly first world problems. They do not prevent me from moving in the world in meaningful ways. They do not cause others to look at me with suspicion simply for walking into a store or in the neighborhood. In fact some of my problems are invisible, some of my problems because of the color of my skin are more easily overcome than they would be otherwise.

Do I compartmentalize my own experiences? View the world based on my own expectations of a world that is better than it is. My husband has told me I do this that I frequently do not see “ugly” behavior for what it is; I do not put the behavior in its proper perspective. I have had to wonder about this lately, question my own ability to truly “see”.

One True Story

When my parents were alive they lived in a small town in the Hill Country of Texas, we visited often, to eat, drink and play golf. My parents lived on the golf course and frequented the clubhouse for lunch. There are very few Black people in this community. We never thought about this, never considered it an issue; it never occurred to us that anyone would treat a member of our family badly.087

We sat down and perused the menu (written on the chalkboard), we were all chatting and laughing together. My brothers, father and ex-husband had just finished a rousing game of golf and DB had beaten their pants off. The men were bad talking each other and we women were rolling our eyes and hoping they would stop, soon please. DB and I were only recently married and had not been to the new house together, but my father and mother were well known to the staff. When the waitress came over to the take our order, she went around the table joking with members of the family, taking orders as my father proudly introduced those she hadn’t met before. When she got to DB and me, she skipped over him, her eyes slid off him as if he didn’t exist though she had taken my order and he was sitting right next to me she pretended not to see him. It was astounding. My father reminded her she had missed his order and proceeded to proudly introduce my husband.

I realize now my father saw what DB saw and I am humiliated by my insensitivity. My husband was mortified and hurt by the encounter and refused to eat there ever again. He told me why and I understood it, I simply did not “see” it until he told me.

The arrest of Miss Rosa Parks - Historical Context

The arrest of Miss Rosa Parks – Historical Context

We that is all of us, in our intransigence regarding race relations in the United States today are the problem. Our refusal to see the problem, our refusal to discuss the problem in real terms, our refusal to ‘allow’ historical context to those that racial bias most affects; we are the problem. Whether we ourselves are unambiguous in our pathological bigotry or we are vague and shroud our intent in a labyrinth of policy and statistics, we remain the problem. Even if we believe we have not a shred of bias, bigotry or racism in our hearts, we are the problem if we refuse to see the truth of this nation and its very real problems with race relations today in 2013.

Discussions of Race and its Historical Context by the President of the United States is not divisive. This President is a Black Man in this United States. In spite of his Bi-Racial make-up he is seen as only one thing on the street, that is Black Man. When he was growing up he was seen as a Black Boy, a Black Teenager. When he ran for office he was hated or loved for his Blackness in many cases. His words on July 19, 2013, were not divisive they were contextual and personal. Yet before he was done those who refuse to see, refuse to hear and refuse to accept Historical Context and Racism as Reality in 2013 went after his comments as if he were the problem. He isn’t.

We are the problem. We are the problem on individual levels when we refuse to examine and correct our own responses and reactions. We are the problem when we refuse to engage in necessary discussions. We are the problem when we don’t speak up, when we don’t get involved when we see inequity happening right in front of us. We are the problem when we don’t stand up and refuse the status quo. We may not be able to change the hearts of men (or women), we can certainly change the outcome of how their words and our own affect our society.

It starts with us as individuals. It starts with me. It starts with you.

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