Saturday, June 20, 2015

Black Lives Matter


I have long had more than enough of the racism of my fellow white Americans.  I don't accept it.  I don't approve of it and I work on myself a lot to deconstruct what America tells me about race.  I've been doing it since I was 5 or 6 hearing one of Malcolm X's speeches on the Sunday news.  I've been doing it since getting slapped by a family friend for saying Leslie Uggams and Diahann Carol were beautiful (along with a number of other black male & female entertainers) and defiantly refusing to accept the "education" of why they were not to be considered beautiful or handsome.  I know my schools and teachers were ill prepared to teach about the accomplishments of black innovators, entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists and doctors.  Somehow they all got relegated to "helper" status or, more offensively, dismissed with the "give a couple million monkeys a typewriter and eventually you'll get a novel" wave of the hand.   But my fairly liberal school still managed to convey the messages and lessons of white supremacy because of the unwillingness to admit the achievements of so many black souls.  Over 55 years later, I'm still an imperfect ally because some of the covert messages still made their way in and found a place to take root.

But.  But.  But. 

For a while, during the 70s, 80s, 90s, and even early 00s, I had hoped we were doing better along the way.  I guess superficially, that's the way it seemed.  And along that way, I've denied and defended my own white privilege - growing up semi orphaned, poor with a working widowed mother, struggling with family dysfunction there is a lot of what we call "intersectionality" now.  Being Irish-American on my mom's side - oh, no! The Irish were indentured servants and that was horrible, wasn't it?  Being Hungarian-American and first generation American on my dad's side (and whose side of the family despised my mother for her Irish roots) who came over on the boat in 1900 though Ellis Island  - oh, no!  They didn't have anything to do with slavery or owning slaves.  They were involved in the immigrant struggles and labor struggles of their era.  And both are true.  And not.  I was young and ignorant.  I had no idea of the concept of white privilege and how it smoothed the way and got you the benefit of the doubt.  Oh! and then there are class issues -- socioeconomic issues, too!    But I've seen it in so many ways throughout the decades and I've worked hard to not perpetuate it or support it or encourage it because I'm an imperfect ally and I really do believe in social justice and yes I understand that there are assholes in all races.

And in that time I've seen black Americans of all classes demeaned and demonized.  In the last 10 years, I have come to see the official system as being at war with them entirely and that it is a continuation of sentiments from the southern states who still have too many who believe that slavery was right and just and their way of life was good.  Whether it's arresting and jailing a 10 year old for violating the school dress code because their sweater is the wrong color of blue or taking down an autistic seven year old and jailing them or shooting into a car of black teens because their music is too loud, the system is at war with them.  The deaths of dozens of black men and women at the hands of the police and so-called "scared" citizens is ample proof that there is a war on people of color.  We cut ourselves a lot of slack for our shortcomings of character, the myriad petty offenses that happen in daily life.  Black American's have no slack.  They never get the benefit of the doubt.   The spew of hate has been like a volcanic lava flow hardening around us over the land.  It's intolerable.  I hate the hate.

I'd hoped for better out of us, not for a retreat to the madnesses of the pre-Civil Rights, Jim Crow era.  I'm ashamed we haven't done better.

I'm ashamed of the cops and others who murder black Americans young and old.  I'm ashamed of the store clerks who racially profile well-to-do black women while ignoring the white teenage shoplifters.  I'm ashamed of the teachers who call the cops on black kindergarteners and elementary school kids who have emotional meltdowns for whatever reason, because where it's a matter of course when the kid is black, it's as rare as hen's teeth when the kid is white.  I'm ashamed of white acquaintances who are unwilling to see what's under their noses and who try to minimize the impact of these black deaths falling back on the line that all lives matters, who cite "black on black crime" while taking hits off their pot pipes, or use the police killings of mentally ill homeless whites to try and say the problem isn't that big.  I'm ashamed of white people at pools who call the cops on black kids who're just out trying to have fun - the kind of fun their own kids get to enjoy every day.   Yes, the problem IS that big.   I'm ashamed that our elementary, middle and high schools can't be bothered to face much less teach the history of black America (and Hispanic and Asian Americans) because they're afraid it'll make white European descended Americans look bad.  Well, we did a lot of bad and fucked up things in settling this country and it's long past time we got honest about it.

I don't know what the answer is, but I am committed to keep deconstructing my own biases, to be an honest witness and to be the best ally I can be.  That's my duty.   Because I know that so many of the things that have benefited my life - my quality of life - have come about because of the foundational work done by black Americans all along the way.   Their lives matter, their work matters, their inventions matter, their arts matter and without them, we'd be much worse off.   

I've had enough of racist whites and their selfishness; they do not speak for me.