Some Things to Ask Ourselves

A protest march on the North Side of Chicago

I feel generally safe in the world. And I hate that this luxury is afforded to me, when it is denied to so many, just because they look a certain way.

My interactions with police have almost always been positive. Even if I got pulled over for speeding, in all but one instance, I could flash a smile, and an “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” and come away with a warning. I have only ever been pulled over by white male officers, and it seems to me subtext of the exchange goes something like this:

Officer: You just brightened my day; I am no longer going to issue you a ticket

Me: I feel like this isn’t quite right, but also, I’m happy to not be getting a ticket

Meanwhile, my partner, who is black, has been arrested — arrested! — for speeding. I didn’t even know that that was a thing people could get arrested for. But then again, I suppose that being black in America is enough, and there are some who may be waiting for just any little reason to restrain a person, humiliate them, abuse them until their body gives out.

I feel sick to my stomach.

And I’ll be the first to admit, I grew up in a Liberal New England bubble. It wasn’t that I was taught that racism didn’t exist. But that the Civil Rights movement happened in the past, and we were moving forward from that. By the time I reached 25, 30, or 35, it should have been gone, right? How can there be this much racism, still? How can it be increasing and not decreasing?

This is the trap of compassion. You think some hard thoughts, ask yourself important questions, and maybe you’re not done thinking those thoughts or asking yourself questions, but you assume that others have done the same. You project your compassion onto them, and sometimes it’s true, and sometimes it’s not. That’s when it’s hard to comprehend. If we all have access to the same information, then how could they come away with such different ideas?

I may be white, but I, too, am pissed off at white people. I am pissed off, and I am embarrassed. I can’t believe that we are still dealing with this. That we still have to tell each other, “Hey, that’s a person over there,” and that some people might blatantly not agree, and still many others (maybe even ourselves) might have bought into certain parts of the system without even realizing it.

There was a protest in my neighborhood a week after George Floyd was killed. Some businesses already had their windows broken the night before, although the marches were calm in my area, compared to many others. Honestly, the violence doesn’t bother me as much as I otherwise think it should. As a thoroughly European-mutt whiteperson, I know that I cannot know what it is like to be Black every day. But I know what it’s like to be so angry that I want something to break because I feel like I’m not being heard.

So, do I want to break things now? No. That doesn’t feel like my personal fight, my personal anger or frustration. I am frustrated with the certain White People and systems that make reality so hard for Black people in America. And whether it’s justified or not, the breaking of windows somehow feels like a natural extension of all that is happening right now.

Coronavirus has put a strain on everyone, and disproportionately affected black communities, revealing disparities in who has access to what kind of health care, and what happens (or doesn’t happen) with them when they do access it. These were known problems. Now we know them with a body count. It’s even more obvious.

And while many white people and celebrities get to complain from beautiful homes with great wifi, where they can still do their jobs, that it’s “so unfair” they can’t just go outside and party, many people of color don’t have the luxury of staying home, because the economic system is stacked against them. That’s not to say that there are not successful and affluent Black People, because there are. But it’s a proportionally much smaller number.

My partner is an “essential worker.” The kind of work he does cannot be home-based. So while he’s trying to figure out a way to go online to make money, it’s necessary for him to keep working, and in doing so, he exposes himself to danger every day. He has options, but the fact is, his choices would be different, and they would feel different, if he had a different color skin.

I want to talk about value. And there’s too much to say about it, but let me just add to the chorus of, of course all lives matter. But you can’t actually say that “all lives matter” until Black Lives matter just as much. To say that Black Lives Matter is to assert that Black Lives need to be counted in the “all,” and the only reason you are saying that is because, at the present moment, it appears they do not. And sadly, it was even written into our Constitution that a Black Life counted as “3/5” of a person. We need to rewrite that. Like, really rewrite it. Because Black Lives don’t Matter until we can be sure that they matter as 5/5. A whole person. Which is what they are.

Why can’t some people get this get this? I wish I could tell you.

Is it all White people de-valuing Black Lives? All cops? No. But it’s enough that it’s not okay, and it cannot stand.

And here’s the thing, valuing another person doesn’t mean that you de-value yourself. Just the opposite. It is only out of fear and insecurity that you would seek to put another person down.

So, the question becomes this: can White People — individually, collectively — value ourselves enough to stop fearing “the other”? Can we shed the insecurity of sunburn-able skin and embrace the fact that having actual melanin doesn’t inherently make a person any particular way? That what’s underneath that is the same musculature, the same vertebrae, the same convoluted brains. There are the same lungs, same heart, same blood vessels. There are are likes, dislikes, opinions, and preferences, just like anyone. Sure, there are cultural differences, but humanity is universal.

Pressing a knee onto an unarmed man’s neck for 8 minutes, when he’s telling you he can’t breathe is an unequivocal crime. It seems to me, in almost any other context besides our current reality (i.e. fictional detective shows), that the perpetrators would have been arrested immediately, not after days — and some of them, still not yet, as of this writing.

People have a right to be angry right now. It’s too much. Trauma on top of trauma, on top of trauma, on top of hundreds of years of traumatic, oppressive history. And whether it’s the actual protestors or “bad actors” who are trying to make the protestors look bad, it seems like poetic justice that it’s businesses that are getting broken into and looted. It’s not that I am condoning violence, or that I don’t think it’s a huge loss, especially for small businesses already suffering from COVID-19 shut downs. It’s just that, in a poetic way, it’s smashing at the capitalism that keeps certain people down. It may be in those exact stores that many POC work because it’s the only job they can get, when really, they know they are capable of so much more.

It is no one’s fault that a deadly virus has infected the world, and changed our lives, making us all stay indoors more than usual, perhaps invoking the trauma of an unfair justice system to some; uncovering disparities in who has access to medical care, and who has underlying health conditions because they already didn’t have that access. Well, we in the United States could have responded differently to the pandemic, and we could have addressed our health system earlier. But we didn’t. And it is absolutely the fault of a white-biased culture that so many black men and women have died as a direct result of it, or an indirect result, when some white people can get away with literal murder for so long, just because of the power they hold in their communities.

George Floyd

Amaud Arbery

Breonna Taylor

Sandra Bland

Oscar Grant

They are just a few. They all deserve to be remembered. They deserve all that we have. They deserve all of the ire and grief at their loss. And what they really deserve — what we all deserve, actually, because it benefits everyone — is real systemic change. We cannot afford to keep putting some of the best people in our communities down for no reason, or just because of something you heard one time. We can do better.

And if you are a white person who thinks you know “what’s what,” and oh, “this is what’s right because of x, y, z…” Question that. Where do those ideas really come from? Go back to the source. Can you trust it? No, really, can you? Was it an actual fact, or someone’s emotionally-held opinion? What are your real and personal experiences? And what if you looked at them in a different way? Reality is perception. If you could shift your perception, could something else be true that you hadn’t considered before?

Yes. Yes, it could. It always can. And it doesn’t make you weaker to consider other options. It makes you stronger. It makes us all stronger. It’s the kind of strength we need right now.

If you want to help, there are many things to do, and you may already involved, but here is a link to a document with a list of bail funds in different cities

I am a former bodyworker and current writer, living in Chicago

Private exhibitionist.

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