A Call For Peace and Resolution

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The recent events concerning police officers killing suspects has raised many questions. We have now opened up dialogue about not only racism and race relations, but also police brutality. Another subject I’ve seen brought to the table is accountability.

Some folks are saying that criminals should not be forgiven, and they effectively get what they deserve. While this is true to some extent, we cannot ask for accountability on one hand,calling these men horrible names like “thug” and “animal”,  and then let those who we should be able to trust the most cross lines without repercussion after they have unquestionably pushed their allowable boundaries.

This, my friends, is what the greater part of us activists are seeking.

At no time should there be a call to openly assault law enforcement officers. There should never be violent defiance or retribution. This solves nothing.

No one ever said criminals should walk free. If any of these men who were killed by police committed a crime, they should have to answer to that in a court of law. However, the same follows for law enforcement officers.

If police are to be held in high regard, then they must act thusly.

Without debating what requires a judge and jury to decide in the cases of the three men killed by law enforcement in recent days, I would like to say at no time have I heard anyone from my camp say they should just get away with crime. All we ask for is the same accountability in law enforcement many of you have asked for from civilians. Law enforcement officers are, after all, human and prone to mistakes, just as any other human being.

What myself and many others want is a higher standard of accountability from law enforcement officers—an institution that has some members who have gone astray.

These officers are sworn to uphold the law—something that goes beyond the duty of a normal citizen. Being that as it is, they then should have no problem with citizens videotaping incidents, or answering to allegations of malfeasance in a court of law. As much as they are here to enforce the law, they are also employees of the citizens. Our tax dollars pay their salaries. We have the right to question their authority. I do, though, believe this is a place and time for ONLY peaceful protest. Additional violence will not end violence. In fact, it only puts police on high alert, making them even more prone to pull a gun.

Let’s face it, what has happened as of late is something tragic for all involved. As much as things like racism are intertwined in these events, this is not a time to be divisive. Rather this is the time when we should all come together to find solutions. We only stand strong if we are united. Divisive behavior will be the end of this thing we call our own. Let’s think before we speak and act. Let’s pull our Nation back together so we can face the woes together, and find amicable solutions for our problems both now, and in the future.

(image source:https://www.flickr.com/photos/bluerobot/5493833292/in/pool-protest)

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Understanding Racism and the Perpetuation of Racial Stereotypes: Why Did Ferguson Happen?

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Today, a friend shared a video of a speaker in her UU church. Although I didn’t know it before I began watching, I needed desperately to see this video. The message was so profound, I was nearly in tears when it ended.

The speaker began to highlight some recent hot topic events, including what is happening in Ferguson. His message reached beyond guilty/innocent, and into the depths of why we are even experiencing this atrocity—something I believe we should address head on until it is no more.

He spoke of the racial stereotypes embedded in our collective mind so deeply that we often act before our better judgment changes our actions. These stereotypes of which he spoke are age old. They didn’t come about by any truth, but were perpetuated during what is known as the postbellum period in the United States.

That time of reconstruction after the Civil War found many with a sour taste in their mouths. They were upset they’d lost the right to own slaves—their source of profit. So, they concocted a string of lies to scare people into discriminating against people of color in order to keep people of color in indentured servitude. Some of those lies were created out of fear—former slave owners really thought slaves would revolt and kill them if freed. What we see today in our media is an outgrowth of the web of lies these angry, fearful white southern sympathizers created.

In the documentary film Ethnic Notions by California Newsreel, we are shown several stereotypes created to defame African American people, as well as other people of color. Early filmmakers concocted images of African Americans who were “lazy,”  “shiftless,” “violent,” and African American women who are not sexually attractive. Each of these stereotypes served a purpose.

By showing African Americans to be less than the ideal human beings and perpetuating prejudices, white Americans could retain the control they so desired. Beyond that, these stereotypes also created a group of “others” who barely functioned as “true Americans,” therefore making it “acceptable” to exclude them from the “in” group. These stereotypes were the bedrock of Jim Crow laws—the dastardly laws enacted to form segregation, justify lynching, and the other atrocities that happened pre-Civil Rights Movement.  Why would we still subconsciously submit to these false stereotypes? Have you ever watched TV?

In the media, nearly every person of color fits into some stereotype. African American men are portrayed as either only successful because they are athletes, or lazy criminals with no job. Moreover, no matter which role they portray, they’re shown to be violent. We, then, are subliminally told to fear them, not to admire them, and definitely not to respect them.

African American women are often portrayed as having children they do not want—or worse, need. They are shown to be loud mouthed, disrespectful, and either sexually unattractive or promiscuous. In that way, white men would never “want” to be with them sexually, and if they are with them, it is because the women are “giving it away”—the men are led on by sexual prowess and promiscuity. Sadly, this stereotype was born of the “Mammy” figure in order to cover the sins of white men who raped African American slave women.  Male or female, these stereotypes are dangerous and damaging to the African American community. Yet the media perpetuates them over and over for us to view—although this is improving, somewhat.

Bringing this back to the issue of Ferguson, Missouri and the death of Michael Brown, we can see that we cannot separate this tragedy from racism. What happened there is so deeply intertwined with racism that we cannot tear them apart. Although people want to deny that and argue only that Michael Brown was a “criminal,” a “thug” who “got we he deserved,” we must ask ourselves why Darren Wilson thought it necessary to use deadly force. For one, he was not carrying a Taser—a fact released after the grand jury decision, but why did he think he needed to shoot and kill Michael Brown, a young man who was unarmed and who had not committed a violent crime such as murder?

By his own account, Wilson was afraid. He thought Brown was a “demon”.  This man towering near 6’4” and 210 pounds, a man who was carrying a gun and had access to call in back up, feared an unarmed teen—a Black teen. But why? Was it so embedded in Wilson’s subconscious that black men are “demons,” that they want to kill all white men, that his better judgment was lost?  Is this the world we have created, and continue to perpetuate? Are we going to continue to allow groups like the KKK to feed this toxic disinformation to us?

We need to remember from where these stereotypes are born—they are born from hate filled white men, who feared loss of their patriarchal power, and sometimes even their lives, to those they had enslaved for hundreds of years. These stereotypes have no scientific basis—ethnology was disproved decades ago. We must end these lies in order to save lives and procure peace.

If you take nothing else from Ferguson, please at least recognize why this tragedy happened, and why it happens over and over again. It’s not just about one police officer, one child killed, or even one community at odds with itself. This is about an entire group of people seeking no more than the same rights we white people enjoy every day. This is about understanding our fellow human beings as actual human beings who are as capable of being moral and upright as we. We cannot let this fade away, known only as “that time some protesters set some buildings on fire”. No. We need to make this known as the time we all finally came together to change our world—both black and white—for the better. If we want to prevent more Fergusons from happening, if we don’t want more parents to feel the pain the parents of Michael Brown are experiencing, then it’s time to demolish the walls we’ve built, once and for all. Let’s put Jim Crow to rest. It’s long past time to say goodbye to him, the only real demon here today.

Bad Reflexes: Reactions to Ferguson

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I awoke this morning to comments to the effect of “you didn’t see white folks protest after OJ was acquitted,” and “white people don’t go around destroying their own neighborhoods over a court decision”.  You know what? There is a kernel of truth there, but there is reason behind the truth.

First of all, the OJ case was different. He was indicted. He went to trial. Wilson will never be on trial. He appointed himself as the supreme decider of Michael Brown’s life. Even if the kid stole a truck load of cigars, he didn’t deserve to die. Michael Brown didn’t have the opportunity for a trial. No grand jury got to decide if he’d be indicted because Wilson decided that there, on that street where Mike Brown lost his life. OJ’s case was also not racially motivated. Brown was killed because of racial stereotypes. How many differences would you like me to point out? Point being there was no need to protest because an entire People was not under attack by OJ Simpson.

Which brings me to the second point. No, white folks generally don’t protest court decisions. Would you like to know why? The militarized police state we white folks have created doesn’t have white children in the streets killing them. People of color must live in fear of law enforcement. Would you not protest if your babies were being killed in the streets?

Don’t get me wrong. This overreaching police state is becoming a problem for everyone, more so than most would like to admit. However, if you’re a person of color, as has always been, you are at a greater risk for being acted upon violently. Racial stereotypes have perpetuated visions of demons that simply do not exist.

And while I’m at it, let’s make one thing clear: White folks do protest. We riot over our favorite sports team being “robbed” on the court or field. We will burn a town down if a rival basketball team takes a championship. We are as prone to violence as anyone of color, just for different reasons. We don’t protest and riot court decisions because we don’t have to. We aren’t under attack.

Mainly, what I would like for people to understand comes from a tweet I read this morning. It stated simply:

If, after last night’s decision, all you saw was rioting, you missed everything.”

(Image and quotation source: https://twitter.com/KevinAvery/status/537231346473893888)

Ferguson Decision: White Privilege and Injustice

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Most of the day, I gritted my teeth. My jaws were clenched from the moment I heard there was a verdict. Somehow, I just knew this wouldn’t end well. Not that it should be a surprise. I mean, I never expected justice. Hoped for it, yes, but I was never optimistic.

Why the pessimism? I owe that strictly to my awareness of my glaring white privilege.

Privilege never leaves my side. Every time one of my sons walks out my door, I am aware of how lucky I am to be born lacking a great deal of melanin. That’s not a choice I made. It certainly doesn’t make me superior. It’s just dumb luck. Regardless, I can say goodbye to my sons without worrying that some cop will harass them needlessly. I don’t worry they’ll be shot in the street, their bodies left for the world to ogle. For even if harm comes to one of my sons, I can be assured that justice will be served. You see, they’re white, too. Mind you, I don’t feel guilt for the color of my skin, but I know, as do my sons, that random science ensured them a life sans racial prejudice.

Of course, I’ve been aware of my white privilege ever since I read Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This speech, as well as who Dr. King is, was never taught to me in school. We never celebrated MLK Day. My teachers never so much as whispered the name of this glorious gift to humanity. Imagine my surprise when I was older and found out what went on during the Civil Rights Movement.

When I read King’s speech, I cried. His words were so powerful, so touching. The hope he carried for humanity was so great, so fair, and so inclusive. Dr. King excluded no one from his Dream. He wished for us all to be “brothers and sisters”. This is something the small-minded, patriarchal, white men who led my parochial school wished I would never know, I’m sure. I was just a simple girl who, without doubt, they expected would marry another white patriarchal male, and carry out my wifely duties, letting my husband retain power. Never did they think someone like me would break the cycle, and call their system of white privilege and power into question. Now, I’m no more than a threat to them. I am a “sorry excuse for a white woman,” as I was told today.

That’s fine. If standing up for justice and equality throws me outside the realm of what they consider “good,” I’ll take it. I’ll stand right over here doing what I know in my heart is right. I’ll let the tears flow as I empathize with the pain of so many who have had to fight for every ounce of freedom they have. I will walk beside them hand in hand, just as Dr. King would have wanted. In fact, thinking back on his speech today, I’m saddened. This peaceful man wanted for us to sit at the table together as equals. He never asked to be lifted into superiority. Just equal.

Remembering back to the first time I read the “Dream” speech, no one had to tell me I was privileged. The language of Dr. King spelled that out for me.

You see, the words flooded my mind with visions of suffering and hope for a better tomorrow. I knew this was not something I had ever experienced. I never had to march to be able to sit in a restaurant along with people of other ethnicities. No one forced me into the back of a bus. My relatives were never lynched. Without being told, I knew there was a system built to protect me, even as a woman, that didn’t include people of color. This bothers me. It bothers me because not just a farm, or a city, or even a state was built on the backs of people of color—our entire country was built on the backs of slaves, and expanded from lands stolen from Native people. Nothing in this country belongs to the WASPs who continue to hold the most positions of power, and who continue to perpetuate hate. There was no seat at the table for people of color. Dr. King asked us to build a new table to include everyone, but yet in 2014, his Dream is still not realized.

We continue to live in a society where one white man can be the judge, jury, and executioner for a young man whose only crime was stealing a cigar. It may as well be 1814.

All I can do tonight is hang my head in shame at the hatred and injustice. I, too, wish for the day when I can rejoice with people I consider my brothers and sisters—who biologically are my brothers and sisters. In case you didn’t know, we all come from one shared ancestor. We are all one people by design. The only thing separating us is greed and hatred.

Tonight, I pray for peace. The family of Michael Brown has asked us all to help them rally to legislate that all police officers wear body cameras so tragedies like this might be avoided. The ACLU and SPLC are calling for peace. Let’s do our part. Join hands. March On. Overcome.

(Image source: http://www.koco.com/national/at-ferguson-church-faith-calms-fears/29894368)

“Passing” in 2014

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I’m really troubled by the fact so few white people are willing to admit their privilege. Moreover, I’m even more appalled that so many white people will accept people of color only if they “act white”. Although I don’t have time to expand on this at the moment, I feel white people expecting people of color to “pass as white” is an incredibly important part of the equation we’re working with. I’ll explore this more in just a few days. Stay Tuned…..

Conversations With Racists

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Having conversations with racist folks is usually awkward and frustrating. It can also be eye opening. Unfortunately, it’s usually only eye opening for the non-racist party.

Last night I spoke with a childhood friend. He no longer lives in my state, and now resides in a large metropolitan area. My assumption that once one moves away from a tiny town like the one in which we grew up into the higher populated city they grow from some of the small town mentality, was horribly wrong, at least in this case.

As we discussed the goings on in the world, we hit on the Ferguson, Michael Brown,racism, and white privilege. His initial comment was “I don’t believe in white privilege. It just doesn’t exist. I’ve never been given anything extra in life, and in fact, I can tell you a story showing how stupid this all is.”

Not only was moving away from his rhetoric about having to “work for a living like everyone else” a nice vacation, but I couldn’t wait to hear how he was going to outline for me the supposed non-existence of racism and white privilege. My ears were at full attention.
His story follows:

My son and I were at the movie theatre the other night. As we left, the light turned red,
but no traffic was coming, so I just made a rolling stop. Apparently, there was a taillight
on my truck, too, and the policeman pulled us over. He approached our vehicle, and tried
to be really tough with us. I basically argued with him a little bit, and we both handed
him our credentials so he could check for warrants. I’d forgotten my NRA card was
behind my driver’s license, and I inadvertently handed it to the officer along with my
ID. When the officer returned to the car, he let me off with a warning, thanking me
for supporting the 2nd Amendment Rights of American citizens.

According to the man, his story was supposed to prove that A) white folks get pulled over and questioned just like everyone else. B) The police officer wasn’t friendly with him, a white male, until he knew they weren’t criminals, and finally, C) That officer was just doing his job, not harassing anyone.

My answer is the story he told makes the exact argument for white privilege. There are so many things about this scenario that might have, and probably would have, played out differently had he and his son been of color.
1) Arguing or disrespecting law enforcement would have probably led to an immediate call for backup.
2) They probably would have both been breathalyzed due to running the light, as that would have been documented as erratic driving.
3) Reaching for their wallets could have been misconstrued as reaching for a weapon.
4) Showing an officer, inadvertently or not, a card denoting gun ownership would have led to removing both parties from the vehicle, handcuffing, and searching the car.

In other words, the incidents that night would have made them suspects, not respected members of a community, and this is where so many white folks go blind. Yes, you may get pulled over and questioned, but you aren’t a suspect unless you give good reason. People of color are suspects from the moment some officers approach the vehicle.

Growing up and living in a tiny, racist town, this isn’t the first illogical argument like this I’ve heard. It’s not the first discussion I’ve had with someone who tried with all their might to prove to me (the liberal whackjob of my town) that racism went away in the 60s, and definitely with the inauguration of President Obama. They all try to prove there is no white privilege because white folks have to work, too. For whatever reason, they all seem to believe people of color just don’t want to work for anything, and they call it “white privilege” because they think white folks just hang out in the shade somewhere. They don’t even try to understand that all people of color have ever done is work. Be it in chains or to overcome and survive—they have worked. That’s not the privilege of which they speak. What they speak of is the privilege to be able to work, go to school, and achieve without discrimination. They want to be able to walk down the street without fear of false arrest or being beaten and/or murdered. And that’s exactly the privilege we white folks enjoy every single day.

I’ve lived here all my life, with brief exceptions. I’ve heard the slurs thrown about like they’re meaningless. I’ve witnessed the stern objections to anyone of color being part of our town. Aside from complete lack of diversity and culture, my town is okay. It’s quiet. The school system is advanced enough, yet small. If the citizens could move beyond their own biases, I’d say it’s a pretty great place to live.

I don’t know shit about what it means to be a person of color in the US, let alone in my hometown. Sure, I’ve gone to college. I’ve taken a cosmic ton of sociology courses. I’ve studied multicultural literature.I know what the books say. However, I do not personally know the feeling of fear and anger a non-white must feel in a community like mine. Some of the horrible comments I’ve heard white folks say around here are enough to invoke fear and anger in anyone.

What I have been is lucky enough to have lived outside this town as a very small child, so my initial years were complete with experiencing diversity. My parents were not racist. That made all the difference, too. I was taught to never mistreat anyone. I’m also lucky to have friends beyond the white friends I have here. I listen to them as they tell me how they feel and the struggles they face. They teach me to be a better human being, and I can never fully repay that.

As I remain in my tiny town, I see the ignorance and fear from which racism is born. Some of these folks have their white privilege turned up so high it screams from far away as they commit crimes, yet the police let them walk away. They’re no better than anyone because of the level of melanin in their skin. Somehow, though, they fear what they have never taken the time to understand—the people who look different from them, different cultures, different languages. What’s more, they fear the loss of control they have over our tiny town. Someone might come in and make changes. They might lose complete charge. I, for one, would embrace some change. Some culture around here would be nice. These old timers though, they just keep passing on their racism to their descendants like a sick inheritance. It’s not going away anytime soon.

Look, I’m just some white chic from a small town with only some thoughts I record for others to read. I’m often accused from the aforementioned fellow citizens of my town of having “white guilt,” and to answer that, no, I do not have white guilt. I’m not ashamed because I was randomly born white instead of some other color. What I do have is what I call Human Responsibility. It’s my job to speak out to these white racist fools who can’t see beyond their own stories to understand the experiences of someone else. It’s my duty to try to teach folks that racism is founded in fear and ignorance, and the white privilege does exist. If I’m ever going to even try to repay the debt I owe my friends who helped me understand what life is like for them in the country which is supposedly “the land of the free,” I must speak out—not for them, but with them. Finally, it’s my job, not as some great white hope, but as a human being to try to make the world a better place. That, my friends, is everyone’s job.