Aaron R. Davis
This week, I was going to write about a State Farm commercial that annoys me, but I just can’t bring myself tot.
Kids are going back to school soon and they’re going to hear all about democracy and civil rights and they’re probably not going to hear at all about how they live in the land of the free and the home of the world’s largest prisoner population. They’re going to hear all about how slavery and Jim Crow don’t exist anymore and how we live in postracial America and the land of opportunity and then they’re going to hear those same complaints come February about why isn’t there a White History Month.
And what they aren’t going to learn about is racial profiling, institutionalized racism and the privilege certain kids have to ignore those things because of the amount of melanin they were born with.
Like a lot of you, I’ve been keeping up with the news out of Ferguson, Missouri. Via social media, of course, because the “legitimate” media isn’t exactly trying to keep us informed of the situation, and the Ferguson police are doing everything they can to keep journalists silent.
I won’t go too deeply into it, because it fills me with rage, and there are a lot of people who expressed that rage more clearly and eloquently than I will be able to. I still can’t process a lot of it past my initial anger toward what’s happening. I want to say something along the lines of “This can’t be happening in America,” but of course it can. It happens in America far too frequently, and will continue to happen with greater frequency now that we’ve armed the police to the level of paramilitary response. You know that old joke about how police officers are people who couldn’t get into the Army? Well, now we’re giving those guys tanks, heavy weapons and more body armor than any American soldier had in Fallujah.
We need answers from Ferguson. What we’re getting is a disproportionately armed response. It’s almost as if the police can’t see a crowd of black people peacefully assembling without assuming some sort of riot is going to break out.
I think there’s a specific name for that as it applies to police procedure, isn’t there … ?
I’ve been learning a lot about profiling the past few days. I’ve been reading a lot of commentary and learning some things about myself and race relations in America. I’ve been listening to how people feel, thinking about it, but not really saying much, because I want to learn.
Yeah, I’m worried about what this says for the future of America. I’m worried about this happening again. I’m horrified at the abuse of power that’s happening in the neighboring state, and worried about what might happen in, say, Chicago, just an hour away from here. I don’t want anyone else to die, and I don’t want anyone to be terrorized. What the police are doing is wrong, and I’m not interested in discussing that with apologists.
I don’t want to be the tiresome white guy who has never experienced racism and then lectures black people about it. I’ve seen enough of those people on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter this week. Here’s a hint: if you’re white, and you feel compelled to write something about what black people “need to do” to avoid situations like the one in Ferguson, put down your phone, turn off your computer, take your vitamins and just sit down for a few minutes and think about why you’re part of the problem.
White people: you are not victims of racism. You’re just not. Did a black kid make you cry once when you were a kid? Did you get in a fight with a black guy once? Did you once feel left out of a conversation because you didn’t have a frame of reference for what some black people were talking about? Did a black woman once giggle at you because she thought it was cute that you were into some aspect of black culture, and it made you feel condescended to?
Guess what? Those are not racist events in your life. You were not a victim of racism. Sometimes people are condescending, angry, rude, thoughtless, mean or just plain assholes. But that’s not racism. Sometimes it’s prejudice, but it’s not racism. Racism is institutional, and there is no institutionalized racism against white people in America. I know that can be hard to hear, but you’re just going to have to deal with that.
I understand why some white people have this idiotic notion that black people can just “get over” racism: it’s because white people have this wrongheaded notion that racism is just being called names or being made fun of or being insulted. It’s so much more.
You know what racism is? Racism is when white people riot after a sporting event and the cops just let it happen, but a black community can’t have a peace vigil without the police putting on riot gear and installing a curfew and firing tear gas into the crowd. Racism is when a white kid shoots up a college campus or a movie theater and the media is sympathetic to his perceived mental issues, but a black kid getting shot six times by a cop must have had it coming because thug life. Racism is what causes gun nuts to follow you around because you’re wearing a hoodie and must not belong there. Racism is when a cop ties your hands behind your back because you were “mouthing off” when he stopped you for a traffic violation. Racism is when you get choked to death on a city street by a cop because you were selling unlicensed cigarettes. Racism is a police department addressing the murder of a black kid by talking at length about stolen cigars.
Cut the shit, white folks. On Tumblr, they say “check your privilege” so much that it’s lost all meaning. But think about how you have the option to drop out of the conversation about Ferguson, secure in the knowledge that what the cops do to black people doesn’t really affect you, and then think about what the word “privilege” really means.
Privilege is being able to say everything I’m saying now, and then go back to writing about State Farm commercials that annoy me next week.
Stop shutting down conversations with black people because they make you uncomfortable. Stop being dismissive with that “I don’t see color” bullshit, because of course you do. Everyone does. When you say that, you’re just erasing someone’s identity and invalidating their experiences because they aren’t yours. Stop acting like there aren’t race-specific issues. I know there are people who worry that acknowledging race at all is racist, but that’s misguided. It’s okay to see race. It’s not okay to let seeing race dictate your actions, your school policy, your housing policy, your law enforcement, your legislation, your prison systems and your war on drugs.
To borrow the words of Paul Robeson, the answer to injustice is not to silence the critic; it’s to end the injustice.
Maybe just shut up and listen and stop telling people not to complain when they have every reason to.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org