Friday, September 23, 2016

Breaking My Silence

I have been relatively quiet on social media regarding this whole topic, and the reason why is mainly because I see a lot of what appears to be both sides—because pretty much everyone seems very divided—talking at each other without anyone attempting to understand, and much of what I read is full of anger, stereotyping—of minorities, of cops, of white people— and very little reasoning.  And of course I think one “side” is more right than the other, because we all do to some extent, and those of us who try to see things from both perspectives maybe feel that chiming in is unproductive, or exhausting—I know when I scroll down my Facebook newsfeed after yet another incident, and its filled with posts full of hatred, blaming, and name-calling, I feel hopeless and heartbroken, and I try to distract myself (quite easily) with the business of life.

But here’s the thing: 

As the wife of a black man, as the mother of children of color, I feel I can no longer remain silent on this issue.  I feel it is my social responsibility to speak up.  As someone who largely believes in the vast goodness of law enforcement officers, and has utmost respect for our police and our military, I feel my duty is to try and speak to my fellow white friends, many of whom I think have the opinions that they do because someone they love is a police officer, and they are hurt when they see their husband’s, wife’s, brother’s, son’s, cousin’s, WHOEVER’s profession villainized.  Please believe me when I say, to most of you, I think I understand why you see things the way you do.  (Now I’m talking about those of my friends who see things differently than I do, but who are attempting to share their beliefs respectfully—not anyone who blatantly posts racist or hateful messages or comments online—if you are someone who is unable to engage in conversation about this matter without resulting to ignorant name calling and racism, then you are obviously one of the main parts of this problem, and I pray that God changes your heart).

But for the rest of you, many of you around my age:  We grew up, a lot of us, thinking that we had gotten past racism.  If you are white, like I am, you most likely never experienced direct racism yourself, and you might not have witnessed it happening around you—you read about it in a history book.  If you had parents who raised you decently, you treated people of all colors with respect.  You may have claimed that color didn’t matter to you, or you didn’t see race (although, I’m guessing most of your friends are white—but that’s probably not your fault.  We’re socialized into a world that teaches us to make friends and relationships based on cultural similarities, and reaching across racial lines to do this is sometimes challenging).  Often, behind closed doors, if your parents are around the age of my parents, and you grew up in a particular part of this country, some of the older members of your family may have aired different views about race—hopefully those comments bothered you, but you probably just shrugged it off as, well, that’s grandma.  Or Uncle Joe.  (S)he grew up believing such and such because of etc., and you didn’t let it change the way you felt about her/him, because you knew (s)he was basically a good person.

We elected a biracial president—I am proud that he identifies as black, I am also proud that he claims a biracial identity—what an example for my girls!  We, most of us white people, had no reason to think that racism was a major problem.  We’d come so far, right?  If the most powerful man in the world is not a white man, doesn’t that prove we’ve gotten past all this?

I think, deep down, most of you suspected the answer was no.  It might be in the jokes you hear sometimes, or the occasional news stories (I’m talking before the ones that have taken over the media now).  It may be in the views expressed from time to time by an acquaintance that bothered you just a little.  But I think the vast majority of us really thought, things are a lot better than they used to be.  They’ll continue to get better.  And even when we had those hints that things weren’t any better—maybe we didn’t want to think about it, because we knew we weren’t blatant racists, so why should we shoulder the guilt?  As a white male classmate of mine said once, “I don’t want to be looked at and seen as a symbol of oppression.”  And I get that.

And now, things are clearly coming to a head, and they’re anything but better.  They seem worse than they did, even five years ago.  I am, quite honestly, not sure how to talk to my girls about it.  This is not the kind of world I wanted them to grow up in.  I pray every day that we can effect social change before they get old enough to experience the kind of monstrous racism that is once again consuming our society.

It starts with the little things—I want those of you who’ve never had to think about this to consider something—a couple months ago, my husband, my girls, and I were pulled over. I had forgotten to renew my tags and it was a couple days past the expiration day for renewal.  The officer who stopped us was polite, professional, and very friendly.  He let us off with a warning.  Here’s the thing, though:  I was driving, and when we were pulled over?  My husband got asked for his ID also.
There is literally no other reason for that to happen than my husband’s skin color.  In a routine traffic stop, whenever I have been riding with a white girlfriend, my brothers, anyone else in the passenger seat—no ID required.  Driving While Black is a real thing.  So, apparently, is riding in the passenger seat.

This very friendly man who I believe has a good heart and became a cop to serve and protect—he automatically asked for my husband’s ID.  It’s probably been his experience that in pulling people over, a higher number of minorities in routine traffic stops get arrested for drug charges or outstanding warrants.  Maybe he’s even trained to do that, to ask for IDs of non-white passengers.  I surely hope not.

Now some of you may be thinking that’s not a big deal.  Maybe it’s not—my husband hadn’t done anything wrong, and he was polite and compliant, so the situation didn’t escalate.  But the underlying assumption that my husband could be doing something wrong, simply based on the fact that he is black, is also, I think, the problematic assumption shared by the many officers in these horrible videos that leads them to, perhaps, jump to conclusions in situations in which ultimately, unarmed black men are tragically gunned down.  I haven’t watched many of these videos—I don’t have the stomach for it.  I also believe the officers are innocent until proven guilty.

But what about the wives and children of those who, it seems, didn’t get a chance to be presumed innocent until proven guilty?  Have those of you who constantly jump to the defense of the accused officers in these videos really taken the time to think about that?  Have you ever lost a parent?  Or a child?  I’ve buried one of each, and it is the most horrible feeling on this planet.  The widows of these black men, those parents and children of the deceased, are victims of catastrophe, regardless of the outcome of the court case, and yet they deal with turning on the TV or opening up a browser and seeing thousands or maybe millions of people jumping to the defense of those who must (or at the very least, should) stand trial to answer for the horrible tragedy that has occurred. 
And then it happens again the next week.

And when peaceful protests and a Black Lives Matter movement or kneeling during the national anthem produces no change, just more angry responses and more attempts of justification for the accused and more blaming the victims—what do we expect to happen?  Seriously?
Violence doesn’t justify violence.  But Black Lives DO Matter!

Let me put it another way: 

My husband’s life matters.

His brothers’ lives matter.  His cousins’ lives matter.

My husband and I, our children’s lives matter!

And that doesn’t mean that your life doesn’t.  It doesn’t mean police lives don’t matter.  Let me say it again:  I have the utmost respect for law enforcement.  I have relied on and reached out to them multiple times throughout my life, as has my husband:  car accidents, medical emergencies, times when they stopped what they were doing just to be good citizens.  I know how essential our police are, and I hate to see the entire profession disrespected or cast as villains.

But justice needs to be served.  And those of us who have white privilege need not sound off and get in the way of that process.

Don’t think white privilege exists?

When was the last time you were asked for your ID in the passenger seat?

Can you leave a poor tip in a restaurant, or be loudly obnoxious with a group of friends in a public place, or come to a meeting late, and not worry about any of these things being chalked up to your racial background?

Some people argue that unarmed white citizens are shot by police also, and the media is trying to create a race war.  It’s true that there are unfortunate and accidental deaths of people of all colors by the hands of police—but the shooting of black men is disproportionate to those of other demographic groups.  Why can’t we all just recognize this, and try to do something about it?

We’d rather spend our time coming up with hashtags that indicate other lives matter, when the Black Lives Matter movement never tried to insinuate that our lives don’t.

We’d rather fly into outrage over the lack of respect of football players who won’t stand for the National Anthem.  Is that disrespectful?  Sure.  But do black people feel respected, or even safe, in their own country?  Don’t they have the right to feel that way?

I will always stand for the National Anthem.  I thought the protests on 9/11 were in poor taste.  My father was in the military and would have given his life if it was required.  My uncle—my mom’s only brother, my grandparents’ only son—died fighting in Vietnam.  His sacrifice was given for our freedoms.  So I will always stand for our flag.

But more important than that symbol, to me, is standing with our black brothers and sisters now.  And I respect their right to protest the flag.  That was one of the freedoms my uncle died for.  I love watching football with my husband, but I hope that if nothing comes of the kneeling, that they go on strike altogether.  Maybe if the NFL was shut down, white people would finally pay attention.  Does it have to inconvenience your life before you recognize that a problem does exist here?

Let me close with this.  When I told one of my family members about my now husband, then boyfriend, she began to cry.  Not because she didn’t like him, she didn’t even know him.  She looked at me, tears in her eyes, and explained that the world would see me differently.

I knew that then, and I know that now.

My response to her was that the love we shared was worth the cost of lowered opinions of me by those who had such shallow conceptions of what love should look like.  It was none of their business.  And what the hell should I care—if someone has such a backwards, hateful, close-minded view of humanity, I could care less what they think of me.

I realize in writing this post, I might lose some friends.  I’d like to say I hope not—I hope you are at least open to hearing what I am saying.  More than that, be brave enough to change your opinion.  To realize that you can respect law enforcement and this country and still want black people to be treated equally.  We need large scale social change.  The entire system is designed for minorities to fail—social reproductive theory posits that schools cater to white, middle class ways of knowing, and that from the very start, many students from other backgrounds must learn to survive in a school culture that is different from their home life—and not all of these home lives are bad, but many of them value behaviors and knowledge that aren’t recognized as important in academic life.  Thus, the cards are stacked against many of our poor black students from the beginning, since education is the viable way out of poverty.  Poor schools in heavily populated minority areas also suffer from fewer resources and less qualified teachers.  Systemic poverty riddles many communities of color, and intergenerational poverty leads to more children dropping out of school and turning to the streets—which reinforces police assumptions that any person of color is more likely than a white person to be guilty of something.

The system needs to change.

And I don’t know how to do that, but I know how to start:  Examine your own heart.

So many of my friends are Christians, and yet I’m shocked by how they continually pass judgment on victims—is that what Jesus would have done?

Love your neighbor—your black neighbors.  Your white neighbors.  Your military and police neighbors.

But please recognize—we are not talking isolated incidents.  There is a problem here.  Please, if you’re not trying to be part of the solution—well, I think you know what you’re part of.

My children deserve better than this. 

Our children deserve better than this.

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