Sunday, September 25, 2016

All Lives Matter: A Follow-up

All lives matter. Black lives matter, Asian lives matter, Hispanic lives matter, Native American lives matter, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Democrat, Republican, whatever divide or category you place us in. Intellectually, I think most white people get that, but I don't think we really feel that way. We are more; you are less. And, honestly, that is why so many of us are afraid. Here in Montana, people of color are as rare as a grizzly bear sighting. Culture clashes are few. It's a white state, a heavily armed white state. And yet we tremble up here as if we were the epicenter of the whole racism issue. It is as if centuries of white dominance in Western Europe, transferred in blood to America's shores and then from sea to shining sea, may be coming to an end and we are fighting, tooth and claw, to keep that from happening rather than embracing a future in which color helps define us as individuals but no longer defines us in hateful generalities, and in which everyone – everyone – has a share in the decision making that affects everyone else. President Obama reminds black people to vote. Progress itself is on the line. I want to see every American of voting age registered and voting. Lets let the world know who we are today, in 2016. Expose where we disagree, demonstrate where we agree. Celebrate our diversity, our patchwork quilt of ethnicities, cultures, faiths. But stand in unity for our most cherished principle: that all people are created equal, with the equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are not empty words, an unattainable ideal. They are the blood and breath of what America wishes to be. And when you pull away from the quilt for a better look, you will see the portrait of Lady Liberty, standing at the entrance to America, standing tall against the smoke of hatred, bigotry, envy, and even terror. They cannot tear us down. Only we ourselves can do that. In the meantime, perhaps we all should “take a knee.”

Friday, September 23, 2016

Understanding “Black Lives Matter” From a White Perspective

I hear many white people respond to the phrase, “Black lives mater,” with the phrase, “All lives matter.” Of course all lives matter. That should be self-evident, but it isn't. And that's the point. No one is free from sin, but white people have never been, historically, great examples of all lives matter. We are not the only ones who have been cruel, but neither are we immune. Anyone who denies that does not know their history. It was white people who exterminated half the Jews in the world, who eliminated most of the Native Americans from one tip of the New World to the other, who enslaved and relocated massive numbers of people from Africa. On balance, white people have not been very kind to each other, either: just in the last century they fought the two costliest wars in terms of human life ever fought. Today, they (we) are struggling to hold onto power and control in this country. I think we fear, once power is lost or even equally shared, that we will be held to account for the sins of our fathers, let alone our own sins. The truth is, to white people by and large, black lives matter less than white lives. George Orwell said it best in Animal Farm decades ago: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” We see it in policy, media coverage, economics, equality; we see it in poverty levels around the world and at home; we see it in disproportionate response of the police toward, in particular, males of color; we see it even in the courts. We love our examples of “good blacks” – successes at sports, articulate in our brand of English, handsome and beauiful and sexy to watch. But they remain tokens in a white-dominated society. To say all lives matter is disingenuous. Scream, instead, “White lives matter! White lives matter more!” It's what you really mean. I have experienced prejudice in my life, centered on me. A young woman with whom I was deeply in love rejected me because of the color of my skin, and my hair. The man who impregnated her Japanese mother was a blond haired, blue eyed soldier who abandoned mother and child. Her prejudice came from a logical place but it was still prejudice. She judged me based on actions or traits she saw in someone else who looked like me. She generalized, and I lost her. But for me to say I understand prejudice on the basis of one incident would be absurd. I had a taste of how unfair discrimination is. That is all. I did not, do not, nor ever have had to live it. I cannot claim to know in any way what it feels like to be young, Black, and male in the United States of America. I get it intellectually; I try to walk in those shoes but it's not the same. It's a rude approximation. Honestly, I never really want to know more than I do, to be the recipient of that level of hate and fear. Once you're subjected to racial programming or turned into a token, maybe you will understand. I don't, yet. In my head I get the message: black lives matter as much. I don't want to happen to me what I see happening across this “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Too many Americans are still waiting for reality to catch up with rhetoric. Patience is rarely limitless. What others do or did in the past does not take away our sins, does not make our own wrongs right. We are all responsible.