So I went to Montana for ten days. It was amazing. I had a blast. And my tablet screen broke so I couldn’t use it at all, and I had zero cell reception and only the spottiest WiFi capabilities, so I was pretty much incommunicado the entire time. I didn’t even realize taht there were places in the continental U.S. that remote at this point, but there are! And that is Not a Bad Thing! I’m glad I was able to unplug for a while–I definitely needed it.
But now I’m back, and WOW, world, did you ever wind up to punch me square in the face when I stepped off that plane at JFK. For the love of Jiminy Cricket. Holy crap.
First of all, Ferguson. What. Is. Going. On. In this country?!?! I really can’t even begin to get into the introduction of how pissed off I am about everything surrounding the authorities’ responses to everything there. I just. I can’t. I am infuriated, broken-hearted, and deeply ashamed of the culture in which I’ve been raised, which allows this kind of thing to happen in the first place and then to victim-blame the innocent young man who was murdered and the people who gathered to peacefully protest his murder. So I’m goign to defer to Alecia Lynn Eberhardt, my colleague at Luna Luna, who wrote about how upset she is over the non-reactions she’s seen from fellow white people, and to Janee Woods, who offers some helpful tips to those same white people about how to be a constructive ally to people of color in the fight against racism. Because being helpful is the way to go. Not sitting here, fuming and despairing, like I’ve been. And of course one can always defer to the incomparable John Oliver to drive straight to the point, with a few jokes thrown in because man do we ever need a laugh.
But look. I’m going to start an introduction. Yes, I usually write about sex-related stuff, but sex–although it’s fundamental and can be a force of unification for all mankind and I think it’s majorly important–is, in a way, the icing on the cake of social justice. It’s transformative and radical and has the power the change the world, but when the world is in such a state that an innocent young man can be gunned down in the street for no reason at all in what is supposedly the “land of the free,” we need to take a step back. When a huge segment of the population in that land isn’t safe to live, be free, and pursue happiness, sex has to be further down on the list of priorities. So I’m taking a moment to rant.
Ok. What’s happening in Ferguson is a matter of major, mega, ultra, huge, national, and worldwide importance. We have to come together over the outrages that continue to be perpetrated against our fellow citizens. We have to stand strong and be vocal and talk about racism in America, especially as it pertains to justice, which effects every other aspect of life, including the ones I’m most passionate about: self expression, the pursuit of happiness, and sexual well-being. So. Speak out. Become part of the conversation, even if it means admitting your ignorance about these issues. Listen. Let yourself be educated. Be kind. Be open. Affect change by being decent and kind, by listening and talking. Respond. React. Change the way you see the world, and the way you live in it. Please help things change.
Just this evening on my way home from the office, I saw two (white) NYPD officers cornering a young black man in the subway station. Thankfully, he did not appear to be cuffed or otherwise restrained; no force was being used. But he looked terrified as they peppered him with questions and blocked his path out of there. I have no idea what the situation was, and maybe there was a legitimate reason for them stopping him. But I will say this: I get off at that subway station a bare minimum of five times a week, and I’d say on average at least once every week there are police officers cornering somebody when I do. And I can recall clearly seeing officers detaining a white person one time–one time–in the two years that I have lived here.
In the morning when I get off the subway to walk to the office, I pass by a small park and a big church with a set of stairs. This church doesn’t shoe the homeless off its steps at night, so most of the time when I walk by it in the morning there are a few people sitting there, waking up, or still asleep with their belongings piled around them. Guess what race none of those people are. Guess what race the mentally ill young man who haunts the park, talking to himself and shouting at the sky, is not. Hint: white.
In the building where I work, there are several companies that rent floors of the building. In the basement and on the first floor are the building offices, mail room, and freight elevator entrance. The people who bring up the mail, do the everyday repair work and facilities maintenance, and cleaning all work for the building, not these companies. These seem to be good, stable jobs since most of the people who perform these tasks on my floor have been working there for as long as I have (more than three years), but let’s be real: it’s service work. They are serving the people who work for the renting companies. Guess how many of them are white. I’ll answer that: one. One of them is white.
Look. I’m only pointing out these anecdotes from my personal experiences to wave a very small hand at a crushingly massive tidal wave of giant fucking problem. Racial injustice is not a one-off incident in the Midwest in which an out-of-control police force shows its true, racist colors. Racial injustice is embedded in the systems that pervade our lives as Americans: the economic oppression and lack of access to decent housing that causes so many young people of color in America to grow up in bad school districts with little access to programs that can help them; the resulting lack of access to higher education that can lead to better and more lucrative jobs; the resulting return to, or continuation of life in, neighborhoods that don’t have good schools for children. The way that people are looked at on the street. The way that they are treated by everyone from sales assistants to police officers. The way that they see themselves reflected in the media. The way they are talked about and talked down to, every day. The way they are treated as if they are already criminals when they are children.
I see it all around me, all the time, and I get so accustomed to it that I often don’t even notice it. That’s true. It makes me feel like a shit to admit it, but there it is. It’s so common those of us who are privileged by the circumstances of our birth so that we can… let it become normal. We let it fade into the background. This is not ok. It is just as hurtful, in the long run, as police brutality, because it contributes to a culture in which police officers think that brutality is ok.
I hardly need to mention the stop-and-frisk policy’s storied background in New York. I don’t need to tell you about the history of race problems between the NYPD and New York’s people. You’ve all heard it already. But I’m mentioning them in passing just to remind everybody that this is not a Ferguson, MO issue, or a specific-to-an-incident issue. It is an issue that affects all of us all the time, everywhere in the U.S. And so many of us who are white are terrified of talking about it to the point that we will ignore it, stay silent about it, or deny it because it makes us uncomfortable. But you know what’s worse than being uncomfortable? Being oppressed, victimized, harassed, assaulted, incarcerated, or even killed for no reason. And it happens all the time all around us.
If that makes you uncomfortable, deal with it. Listen. Talk about it. Read about it. Ask questions. Stare overtly at police officers when they’ve got someone cuffed. Ask questions if you can. Take video. Hold them accountable. Hold yourself accountable if you are a white person in America. Examine your ideas and your thoughts every day. Talk to your friends of color about them. You don’t change anything by being afraid, you change things by being brave and making yourself look like an ass if that’s what it takes. But please. Do something.
Ok, I was originally going to include several topics in this blog post. But that got really long and ranty. So instead I’m going to sign off and save my other rant, about Christy Mack, for later. Whew. Sorry about that, guys.
But really. Do something.
Here are some more links to look at and consider:
- Five Black-on-Black Crime Myths Debunked
- Five Stories About the Excessive Militarization of Police in America
- Police in Pierre, South Dakota Tased an Eight-Year-Old Native Girl Last Year and It’s JUST NOW Getting Headlines
- Study Shows that Cops in the U.S. View Black Children Differently
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Was Spot-On in 1991
- A Story Black People Have Heard That White People Have Been Afraid To Hear For Far Too Long
- Ferguson: Police Draw Guns on Rosa Clemente, Talib & Others
- Ways to Support Mike Brown’s Family and Others in Ferguson
- And Maggie and Marge Simpson Sum it All Up Nicely. Sigh.