Compare the best of their days with the worst of your days; you won’t win.
Since the shooting of Trayvon Martin I, like many other white Americans, have been forced to look at myself and examine what privilege truly means. Gradually, events at a national level have gotten harder and harder to ignore, with filming police altercations with minorities becoming more ubiquitous. Good. We white people need to sit down and look long and hard at ourselves.
I’ve never – I don’t think – been outwardly racist towards someone. Truly! I try very hard to not be racist at all. The irony though is if I’m trying not to be racist, I actually am embodying a form of racism. And I can’t help it, because racism is so deeply ingrained in our society. Every time I see a person of color, I think, shit, do they think I’m being racist right now? act totally normal. ACT NORMAL. It does not make me proud to admit these things, but I have to come to terms that I’ve been indoctrinated with prejudices and stereotypes my entire life. My knee jerk reaction might not reflect a deeply held belief, but it doesn’t matter. It actually takes work to be not racist. And I think a lot of white people fall short of putting in that work.
It’s very easy to look for a reason why a black man might’ve deserved to be shot to death, while buckled into a car, with his girlfriend and her young daughter in the back seat. Well, he must not have done exactly what the cop said! I understand the need to try to justify a senseless killing like this, because not too long ago, I was in complete denial that systemic racism was a thing. There’s no way people can be like this. Because I knew better: to keep whatever racism I had in me buried deep down. But the events in Ferguson brought out the true nastiness and transparent nature of racism which is still as full and healthy as ever.
Those were tough conversations to have. With ourselves, and each other. But they were totally necessary.
I was thinking this morning what “freedom” really means, this week after celebrating the independence of our country, and in the same week as two senseless police killings of black men, and the deadliest shooting of police officers in history. Freedom? Who does it actually belong to? I’m a privileged white woman in a liberal metropolis. I got money, I got a house, I can do whatever I want. I can choose not to engage in the race talks. I can tune it out and blog about lamps instead. That’s a great privilege I have. It’s my privilege to live in a bubble, if I so choose. But I not have the same privileges as a man. I may get paid less, or be more prone to street harassment — or even rape. I may be denied basic health care because I’m a woman. I have less freedom than white men. A black woman has it even worse than I do, having to bear the burden of sexist and racist attacks.
I think about black men, and how they are less free than me. Many of them can’t walk down the streets without eliciting suspicion. They can’t wear hoodies. They can’t protest nonviolently for their humanity without being labeled “thugs”. If that’s freedom, that’s an awful, terrible freedom, and that’s on us.
Nobody with decency would try to justify the shooting of 11 police officers, who were doing their sworn duty and protecting the public. That’s a terrible tragedy, and should be labeled as nothing else.
Why then, not the same reaction for the needless killing of a black man whose only crime seemed to be being black at the wrong place and time? Why no mourning for a man loved by his family, on the same level, as say, a gorilla?
WHITE PEOPLE. WE HAVE TO DO BETTER. What can you do? You can start by listening. Take the concerns and experiences of those who represent the oppressed minority seriously. Listen to black voices. Listen to Ta Nehisi Coates, or Roxanne Gay, or DeRay McKesson, or Shaun King, or Beyonce. Educate your friends. Call them out for dumb racist shit, and if you ever get called out for racism, I hope you take it to heart. Black Lives Matter more than your White Privilege, and the most important time to recognize that, besides yesterday, is today.
We don’t have freedom until we all have freedom.
UPDATE: I haven’t been able to watch this whole video but Trevor Noah is on point, echoing many of my own thoughts, but more eloquently. He is especially right on comparing an awakening to the realities of racism to that of sexism. WATCH IT PLEASE.