On Thursday, my friend told me this story:
“Not long ago, my brother (who is a white policeman) got a call to go downtown to a bar with his partner to deal with some kind of public disturbance. When he got there, a huge black man attacked him, swinging, and tackled him to the ground. They struggled for a while until his partner could wrestle the man off of him, but all the while—the patrons of the bar were gathered in a clustered semi-circle chanting, ‘Get the pig! Get the pig!’”
Then, I heard this story;
And I just cry. Because there are so many more stories like these—some of them we hear, and some of them go completely unreported—but we feel them all as a nation. And the anger grows, and the fear grows, and we start reacting. We start reacting because it’s completely normal to react to tragedy and injustice—it’s healthy to react. But I feel that we must be more thoughtful about our words and actions in the way that we respond. I’m combing through my Facebook feed, heartbroken, reading comments like, “If we really wanted you all dead, we’d just stop patrolling your neighborhoods and wait.” I’m looking at memes that are nonsensical and misinformed. I’m reading opinions that are calloused and full of hate—from all sides—and I just cry.
And then I feel angry that there are “sides” at all when I don’t think there has to be.
Instead, I think we can be unified. I think we have to be.
Because we are facing real problems—problems that need real solutions; problems that need everyone’s attention.
Systemic racism is a real thing, and so is white privilege. If you’re unable to wrap your mind around that yet, I want to say this gently, but honestly—it’s not okay for you to continue believing that racial injustice is some kind of “excuse” that people point to when life just doesn’t seem fair. I understand that for many reasons, some people have never had to face the issue of racial injustice head-on. Some people are unaware of their privilege. But I’m telling you—it’s real, and I encourage you with every bone in my body to find ways to educate and enlighten yourself on the subject.
While awareness isn’t enough to affect change—it’s impossible for change to occur if we do not first begin with awareness.
If you’re not sure where to start, let me know. It’s actually not as simple or straight-forward as it seems. It’s systemic, far-reaching, and often subconscious—because when we talk about racism, we aren’t just talking about blatant hate crimes or loud, unfiltered hate speech. We’re also talking about the way we’ve been conditioned, over time, to value or devalue each other based on presuppositions and stereotypes perpetuated by the media, our culture, and probably spiral dynamics, too. But that’s a conversation for another time.
It’s often these deep-seated, subconscious views, not just intentional hate-crimes, that lead to devastating, and sometimes deadly scenarios. So it’s our responsibility to become aware of our own prejudices; of our own racism; to look inwardly and address our own misinformed view of the world.
We must show good character by continuing to educate ourselves on matters of injustice. We must show compassion by listening to the experiences of others, even though they may fly in the face of our own preconceived notions.
Biased reporting is also a real thing. Most of where we source our information is problematic. The media feeds on fear. It stokes the fire with polarization. It loves to play on peoples emotions—irresponsibly reporting untruths and loading their rhetoric with biased, divisive language. To witness this, all you have to do is listen to how FOX news and CNN report the same story. We must be mindful and responsible with where we pull our “facts” from. I know it’s hard—there are so few sources of good information accessible—but I think we can do better than re-posting memes from clearly biased sources that are charged with polarizing phrases and that make baseless, hurtful claims (which essentially just affirm what we already want to believe is true).
Abuse of power is also a real thing. In the past few days, I’ve seen and heard countless, gruesome stories of police senselessly killing and beating people (of every color and gender) and walking away from the encounter with little more than a slap on the wrist. Though every cop I know personally is a goodhearted human who genuinely wants to serve and protect their community, we must acknowledge that the system is broken in their favor, and it is a violent, unjust, unacceptable problem. Good cops: call out the bad behavior instead of defending it or making excuses for it. They do not represent you—we know that—so let them face the repercussions of their unjust behaviors.
Violent protests are also a real thing. I have friends in law enforcement, and they are scared. Their wives are scared. Their kids are scared. This breaks my heart, because I don’t think it’s what anyone truly wants. I’ve yet to speak with anyone who has defined their idea of justice as being, “I want the police to fear for their lives more than ever before.” This isn’t any compassionate person’s idea of justice or peace. Yes, we want systemic racism to stop—we want accountability for the officers who use excessive force—we want our black communities to feel equally protected, but we are not trying to persecute others in the process.
For justice to prevail for some, it does not have to fail others. For peace to come to the burdened, it does not have to flee the rest.
The value of one life does not exclude the value of another.
This is not an exhaustive review of the issues at hand, but it's enough to get at my point: the problems we are facing are real. That’s why we react. We are afraid and angry because there are real things to be afraid and angry about, and feeling afraid and angry is okay.
But none of these things require an “US verses THEM” mentality—which is what fear asks for. It’s what the media asks for. It’s what terms like “liberal” and “conservative” ask for. It’s what “democrat” and “republican” ask for. But what are these things, really? They’re systems. They’re illusions we’ve created to categorize and label large groups of complex individuals. They’re terms we’ve deemed worthy of dividing us as one human race—into thousands and thousands of broken, disjointed fragments.
When I read about Alton, Philando, and the policemen killed in Dallas, I just cry. Hot tears that are angry and grieved. Hot tears that fall because I want to find a solution and I just keep finding more complexities. Hot tears that are tired of welling and welling, running and running.