Did you grow up being told that we were “post-race”? We’re not. We’re in crisis. And it’s past time we all acknowledged it, so that we can start to work for the memories of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice.
I haven’t written about race on this blog. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the right to talk about the subject at all. In college, when intense discussions about race and racism would occur, I tried to keep quiet, to listen and really hear the voices of people whose experiences had lead or forced them to think more about race than I had had to over the years — primarily people of color.
But to keep listening forever and never speak out is to functionally ignore racism and white privilege. We can’t do that. I can’t do that. I grew up in a world that pretended we were post-race. As a white girl growing up surrounded mostly by white people, it’s a lie that was easy to believe. But it’s simply not true. We are in crisis.
Newbies to the idea that we have a racism problem in America (I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt — perhaps you’re young and sheltered) should probably check out Hari Kondabolu‘s Waiting for 2042. Hari is really, really smart, and his stand-up is funny, and painful, and it hits hard. People tell him he’s obsessed with race, he says, but
Telling me that I’m obsessed with talking about racism in America is like telling me I’m obsessed with swimming when I’m drowning.
I spent last night watching live streams of the protests in Ferguson (the protests were spurred by the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson). Lines of policemen, faceless behind their shields, squaring off twenty feet from Americans whose taxes pay their salaries, people who were angry, people who were afraid for their community. At one point, a popping noise sounded. Protesters scattered, frightened, and the police retreated and drew their guns, huddling behind the cover of cop cars. Later, there was tear gas, beanbags, and fires.
It looked like a war. But the protesters — they were not the soldiers. They were largely unprotected. They were working together to keep each other safe. They were shouting to make their voices heard. And they were there because of Michael Brown. Because of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old boy shot twice at close range by police in a public park for waving a toy gun. This has to stop. It has to.
In their statement, Michael Brown’s parents invited us to
Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.
Although the ACLU opposes surveillance as a rule, body cameras for police officers is their recommendation as well. Cameras are an effective way of documenting, and hopefully curtailing, police brutality.
But police brutality against people of color doesn’t just occur because policemen are all psychopaths. It’s a symptom of the racism endemic in our culture. As Mychal Denzel Smith explains, writing for The Nation,
…Racism is not simply personal prejudice/bigotry that only manifests in the form of being unkind to someone on the basis of their skin color or calling them a derogatory name. Racism is a system of oppression, one that creates a society of first- and second-class citizens by denying rights and access to resources to non-white people. Racism is a system of power created by and maintained through public policy.
In order to fight racism in the United States in 2014, we first need to acknowledge that these systems of oppression exist. Racism is not just the asshole down the street calling someone a name. Racism is not just something isolated that we can point to and excise, like a cancerous mole. It’s more like the microbiome in our guts. It’s everywhere. It’s in the very air we breathe. We are all party to it. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we can work towards a future in which fewer Black men and children are murdered by the people we have tasked with protecting us.