I initially wrote this yesterday (July 6th), with the intent of posting it after I got home from work, but life got in the way and I figured it could wait until this morning. Then I woke up to the news that another man had been shot, and it literally changes nothing about what I wrote. Sickly it applies whether I am reacting to Tuesday’s violence, or to the violence that took place yesterday night. What the actual fuck…
To all my friends who must deal with the very real possibility of police violence or systemic oppression, for whatever reason, I stand in awe of your strength and resilience, and appreciate everything you’ve ever taught or shared with me. I’m just a white girl from the suburbs who wants to help make the world a better place, so keep it coming. ❤
I’m sitting in the office of my relatively cushy job at a private college. A liberal arts college. I work with art and photography students. The most stressful part of my job is dealing with entitled, whiney students, or the occasional high maintenance faculty member. I have a high school diploma and two college degrees. Both in the visual arts. I grew up in Ohio, in a middle class family with both of my parents present. We had a split level ranch house, multiple cars, and a dog. I had my own bike, and for at least junior high and high school, my own room. I got to participate in extra-curricular activities, my dad took us to the library, we occasionally went on vacations.
I currently live in a predominately black and latinx neighborhood in Chicago (one of America’s most segregated cities, by the way). I chose to live in this neighborhood. I love living there. But then again, I do not have to fear walking past a police cruiser while wearing a hoodie, or seeing police walking toward me on my street as I head home from the train at night. Because it is far more likely that they will smile and say hello to me, than immediately assume me to be any kind of problem or threat. In fact, the sad truth is that if I were to initiate a violent altercation with a black individual in my neighborhood, and the police were to arrive, it’s odds on that the police would jump in and attempt to protect me, over my victim. Because I am white.
The color of my skin has never been a danger or barrier to me in my entire life…
I am a cis-gendered woman in a committed relationship with a lovely gentleman, also from a middle-class, white, suburban background. I have never had to struggle with my identity in that respect. Nor have I ever had to face ignorance or intolerance from those around me because I didn’t fit into the traditional gender binary or because I love someone whose sex is the same as my own. I will never be questioned about my ability to parent my impending child simply because it would have two mothers or two fathers, as opposed to the “normal” conception, one of each. I will never have to fight to even have the right to conceive or adopt a child…
My life, while occasionally “a struggle” or “difficult”, has been no harder than the average person’s. I might even argue it’s been easier. I say all of this not to brag, but to acknowledge the advantages and privilege in which my life functions. Simply through luck of the draw I have found myself a beneficiary of all things white, suburban, middle class, and hetero. Oh, and we might as well throw western in there too. Because my family certainly didn’t originate from anywhere but Europe, and has been in the states for several generations now. Except the Irish part… They didn’t like it here and went back to Ireland. I didn’t choose to be these things, but they are part of my identity. I do not allow all of those facts to blind me however. I try very hard to look at the world critically, to learn and open myself up to that which I am not. I want to experience and appreciate the diversity that exists in this world.
So, I’m sitting here in my office, reading the news of the day. Another black man has been shot by two police officers. Once again, it has happened under some very violent and questionable circumstances. Yet another ignorant/hateful/racist/unnecessarily violent act has been perpetrated upon a fellow citizen. And I want to weep. My inner 3 year old wants to stomp her foot and scream about how unfair this all is. She just wants people to see one another as people and go play in the sand box. She doesn’t understand why everyone can’t be nice to one another. My actual 32 year old self feels shattered into a million pieces as I think about all of my friends of color and all of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community, because I know that in the here and now, they will never be able to feel safe. They will always fear for themselves and their loved ones, because someone may decide to hurt them based on a stupid, superficial reason, like the color of their skin, or who they just kissed, or perhaps even the god in which they believe. And more than likely the perpetrator will get away with it. I want to offer words of comfort and support, not only my friends, but the world at large. But I feel so incapable, and so, so unqualified to do so. Mind you, my feelings on this are nothing compared to theirs. Absolutely nothing.
I feel so much rage and disbelief, and I want to force people to see things the way I do. To forcefully rip out their ignorant and hurtful opinions and behaviors, to replace them with kindness and acceptance. How is it that these things are still happening?! How have we not learned our lessons yet? More over, I cannot wrap my mind around the idea that there are still people out there defending the actions of the police, while demonizing any person of color that is shot by the police. That they will dig up, produce, or misinterpret statistics in order to demonstrate how many more whites suffer from violent deaths at the hands of people of color or the police, or how its actually more common for black men to get shot because its more common for them to perform a crime. That there are still people who straight up believe that anyone who isn’t white is less. I cannot comprehend that there are people out there barging into women’s restrooms and attacking women (based entirely upon they way they are dressed, or manner in which their hair is styled), assuming they are transgendered and using the “wrong” restroom, then claiming they are protecting children and other women in said bathrooms from attack. That these people refuse to acknowledge the fact that it is far more likely for transgendered individuals to be attacked while going to the bathroom than for them to be the attacker. It’s disgusting to me that these people shout white pride or want a straight pride month. I hate that it’s those people who co-opt the #blacklivesmatter, #queerlivesmatter, or #muslimlivesmatter hashtags and try to say #alllivesmatter. (Let’s just leave aside the often empty gestures of social media activism because I just don’t have the emotional energy right now to enter into that conversation.)
Yes. All lives do matter, and I wish the hashtag could just be #humanity. But. But the reason we need those specific movements, and to say those specific words, the reason we need to point out that they matter is because all lives DO NOT yet matter. In actual, active practice, these lives mean so much less to white America. The fact of it is that POCs, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and really ANY minority in this country, are still discriminated against on a regular basis. They still have to hear politicians talk about how they’re “thugs” or “rapists,” or that they’re “stealing our jobs.” They’re accused of being terrorists just because they have a vaguely Islamic sounding name or look to them. They have laws being foisted upon them forcing them to use the inappropriate bathroom, or telling them who they may or may not marry. These lives cannot walk out on the street, or see a police officer without looking back over their shoulder, paranoid that they may be attacked or “restrained” for no damn good reason.
Do I know exactly what happened in any of the situations that have been plastered across the headlines in the last several years? Was I there? Can I speak from experience? No, no, and no. But that shouldn’t matter. As a human being, all I know, and all I see, is that people are being hurt, people are dying, people are terrified, horrified, saddened… And while none of this directly impacts me in my day to day life, and I have the luxury of choosing to step away or ignore it, I cannot, because it MUST stop. All of this violence, all of this hate, it may not be directed at me, but I feel it with every headline, and I witness the pain it brings others. To the best of my abilities, I empathize with these communities and seek to effect change so that it may stop, so that my fellow humans can stop hurting, stop fearing. That is my job as a fellow human, is it not? It should make us all want to effect change. It should make us question what we understand to be “normal” and “right.” It should make us challenge the status quo of police behavior or religious practices… of our own set of beliefs. It should make us more cognizant of the micro- aggressions that we ourselves perpetuate, or witness happening around us. If we truly want all lives to matter, then seeing this hurt, despair, and pain, should make us all step up and be advocates for anyone who is systematically discriminated against. We should, actively, in practice, make all lives matter, not passively stand by and shake our heads at how sad these events are, then change our Facebook profile pics to show our “solidarity” for, or send our prayers to, victims of this oppression. Instead of hashtags and empty gestures, we need to exemplify our humanity and supposed belief in equality through our daily actions and words.
I don’t know that I have any profound suggestions for helping these changes occur. Like I said before I feel very unqualified and unequipped to even offer comfort and support, however I feel that I cannot just stand on the sidelines and hope that things will eventually improve. I can listen and hear what the individuals in these communities have to say about their own circumstances and experiences. They are, after all the experts on their lives and deserve to be heard and respected, not talked over or dismissed. I can offer my assistance within these communities, in a manner that they deem fit and appropriate. I am not there to be a savior, but to be an ally, advocate, accomplice, and friend. I should be there assisting them to fulfill their needs, not my own. I can stand up to those in my daily sphere who are perpetuating racist/homophobic/intolerant/ignorant/privileged behaviors and mindsets. Respectfully, I can challenge and ask them to reconsider their actions. Am I an expert on all things race/sex/gender/religion/etc related? Fuck no, but at least I can say “Hey, don’t use that racial slur!” or “No, I’m sorry that statement you just made is factually inaccurate, please do not continue to repeat it.” or, “You know, what you just said to me was incredibly sexist because…” or even “If you are going to say offensive, ignorant, or insulting things around me, then I would prefer not to interact with you anymore.” I can challenge my own daily assumptions and unconscious biases or accept challenges, with out hostility, from others that force me out of my comfort zone and beg me to question those biases or assumptions.
I don’t know if any of these things are enough, or if they carry any weight or meaning… But at very least, they are things that everyone can implement in their daily lives in order to help promote tolerance and empathy.
My partner and I are about to become parents. It makes me so sick that this hatred, ignorance, and discrimination are things that my child will have no choice but to inherit from the world. It also makes me sick, that just because my kid is going to be the offspring of two fairly well educated white people, it will experience a certain amount of privilege over, and possibly at the expense of, many many others just as deserving (or far more deserving). Beyond the 3 year old assessment of “not fair,” that privilege and many people’s resultant behavior, simply isn’t right. It isn’t just. It isn’t moral. And while I would gladly give up my privilege, or my kid’s privilege just so that one more marginalized individual wouldn’t have to face systemic discrimination, I know that’s not how it works. I know that desire is silly and naive. Instead, one last thing I can hope to do, is to make my kid aware of the privilege they have, instill social awareness, and a desire for justice.