The year is almost over, soon we’ll be ringing in the New Year. Last year, around this time at Boston Common, I was participating in mass [national] protests in regards to the Eric Gardner incident. In the mythical age before the internet, as a child, I watched my hometown burn in reaction to video of my cousin being beaten by the police went viral — it was the first time the “minority mythos” of police brutality gained credibility with the majority.
In my day to day life, I try to avoid talking about the two R’s: religion and race. I avoid religion discussion the most, mostly because the point of arguments is to convince, and I have no interest in assailing someone to convert or see my point of view on religion. So, I have nothing to gain by arguing about it. But for race, it’s not logic that stops me from bringing it up. Then why? Fatigue.
My mom, scarred by the Watts Riots (sparked by police violence and social unrest at systematic discrimination) and her experience growing up, she taught my brother and I about race relations early in life. I still remember the day she sat me down, I can still feel the pit in my stomach as I was certain she was going to scold me about something. But, instead, she said me:
Mom: listen, I love you. One day, you’ll meet the police and whatever they say do it. They will kill you.
My mom then went onto to explain, that which seemed as casual as explaining how to ride a bike, to me how to get arrested and beaten and how to best make it home. She made me promise to remember what she said, and made me repeat it back to her verbatim. Though at the time, I still remember being dismissive, I believed her story to be antiquated and worries anachronistically placed.
I don’t remember when I found out I was wrong about my mom’s ‘antiquated advice’, and soon I learned being a nerdy honor student didn’t protect me. Maybe it was when my brother, his friend, and I were held at gunpoint at a simple traffic stop when I was a teen. Perhaps, it was that one time where I was assaulted by an older white gentlemen that my face left bloodied after he threw a beer bottle through my car window (gouging a whole in my cheek) and the police who later interviewed while me accusing me of participating in a rival “gang fight”. If I think about it, it may have been that one incident where I was held on the suspicion of armed robbery for several hours to a city and bank I’ve never been to, to the police’s credit I did match the description of a black male in “a grey or white t-shirt and blue jeans”.
Race, and the effect it has on social constructs is no mystery to me. It’s the fatigue, the race PTSD, that makes me too fatigued to talk and no less write about race. So, I’m never very quick to jump to discuss race or else betray my own sanity. The last time someone brought it up it ended in a wounded friendship after my (nonwhite) friend (who was unfortunately rejected from medical school) told me I was “lucky” aka I won the affirmative action lottery – never mind I that compared to this person that I had better scores, letters of recommendation (their top letter was from their physician father), more community service, and extensive post graduate research. I remember being taken aback by realizing that an acquaintance, someone who was becoming my friend, would rather reinvent my narrative and remove my merit and replace it with race.
Last year, some classmates and I formed a makeshift committee, and we had a vigil to honor all of those lost by excessive police force. I was responsible for compiling a list of national victims, the list I made only had two requirements: killed by the police, and killed by the police while not armed. I wanted to avoid misreporting cases so I worked to remove names off my list as I drudged through headlines, local articles, and court cases — even making an abbreviated list was a difficult task as congress forbids the FDA to use federal money for gun violence research, and most police departments can report as little or as much as they’d like. In the end, I still had a mighty multiracial list, ranging from the young and old. The event garnered a lot of support, the administration backed us up, and as tradition holds in the civil rights movement many different backgrounds decided to be our allies.
Several weeks ago, prior to a community outreach meeting, I had dinner with a friend from another program within our institution. As we gobbled down our food, she bought up a subject she rarely talks about: race. As we ate, she probed how I felt about the protests going on. Perhaps, being a politician in my ways, I decided to offer a neutral answer because I think most answers are never that simple. She told me, as a white female, how the protest alienated her and some of her friends and why they didn’t support it — as she poised it, “We shouldn’t have to say we’re sorry or guilty for something we didn’t do”.
I saw her point of view, but I also was confused by the logic of the argument. First, it’s logical to not feel guilty about systematic discrimination when you’re not participating in it. In fact, I’d hope that the police who fight against Garner like injustice feel no guilt either. However, while discounting guilt, it’s not too much to demand enough maturity to have empathy for those who experience discrimination or mistreatment. I don’t feel any guilt about pay discrimination, because I don’t participate (though I realize that I wrongly benefit from the status quo), and I sure as hell believe pay discrimination shouldn’t exist. When my house was a foster home, kids came in who were both physically and sexually abused. We didn’t need to first come to grips with our societal “guilt” before advocating for them. When I traveled to more patriarchal countries, I recognized how I was treated better than others for no other reason than what I can scientifically reason as genitalia differences. Though, I suppose if she had went to the event that then they would have seen that the event of Eric Garner, an event where we read off of the names to honor multi-racial victims, transcended blame and instead targeted solidarity and solutions. Perhaps reflecting this, most of the participates in the protest were actually white, and I doubt any of them felt any particular guilt; instead, they were just driven by doing a social good.
What social justice movements needs are allies who fight for change, whether that be for redemption or because of virtue. And really, I find it curious that people can sit on the fence as people suffer. I’m very much against the “You’re either with us or against us” false dichotomy. But, I do believe that in terms of progress, “You either help grease the wheels or help clog them”.
No one is looking to point fingers, unless those fingers are pointed at solutions. And really, if you feel defensive about being grouped together with the oppressors remember than none ostensibly assigned you to the group but yourself — if offended, consider the noun to be a philosophical Rorschach test for you to work out yourself.
In the world where it’s totally okay to riot to celebrate a sport loss (or ironically, also a victory), it’s funny that people are up in arms about other groups having the same vigor and passion to protest their lack of rights.
Thanks for reading feel free to comment.