Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. - Martin Luther King Jr
I'll be honest; I don't really know what to say.
Tomorrow Mike Brown's family's Thanksgiving dinner will have a gaping painful empty seat at the table, while the man who killed him will spend it passing mashed potatoes across the table just as he has every year before, without even the looming shadow of a trial date to nag the back of his mind. A mother has lost her son, and the killer gets to live his life as if nothing ever happened.
I get overwhelmed easily. Sometimes I shut down under the weight of the cruelty and injustice in the world and I do my best to hide away from the world for a day, a week, a month. It is a testament to my privilege that I am even able to do this, and I am ashamed of it sometimes. Which, I think, is why I am writing this even though I'm not quite sure what it is I want to say. I just feel like I need to say something. Anything.
This is not only Mike Brown's story. This is the narrative of prejudice, fear, violence, and injustice that people of color are forced to endure. Mike was not the first and unfortunately he was not the last. Until we have real conversations about the failures of our system, this will continue to happen. Family's will continue to morn, police officers will remain unchecked, and the media will continue to narrate rightful anger as senseless, unprovoked overreactions.
Darren Wilson may very well have feared for his life. Not all violence against people of color stem from conscious violent hatred of people of color. It stems from unconscious internalized racism that is ingrained in us by this society that still desperately clings to notions we insist- even believe- ended long ago. Whites teach whites to fear people of color. Whites are raised to fear people of color, to be on guard around them, to believe the pigment of their skin somehow makes them a greater threat than someone with lighter skin. And it is this racist, unfounded fear that kills so many innocent people of color every single year. It is not cops running around looking for a black teen to kill; it is cops believing blacks pose a greater threat than whites. And that same internalized racism enables them to act on this unrestricted and without threat of punishment, because other whites who have internalized that same fear think "I would have feared for my life too."
This is a very difficult thing to make people understand. There is such a disconnect between what privileged parties think when they hear "racism" and how modern racism actually operates. And until we bridge that gap, until more people educate themselves and start making a conscious effort to understand internalized prejudice and to do the hard job of learning to recognize it in ourselves and to correct it, these tragedies will continue. It is not easy. I look back on some of the things I said before I knew any better and it makes me cringe. And I'm sure I still screw up plenty without realizing it because I am still learning, and 2 years from now I'll add some more cringe worthy memories to my list. But that's a good thing because it means I'm learning; it means I'm getting better. It is hard to willingly acknowledge something as awful as racism in yourself, harder to admit to it and make the necessary changes, and harder still to push others to see it in themselves as well. But we must. That is the price of our privilege. And we need to start paying it.
I want to add one last thing: listening is just as important as being willing to speak up. Very, very important conversations are happening right now, and those of us who are fortunate enough not to experience the injustice and oppression have a responsibility to listen, to do our best to understand, and then to do our damnedest to acknowledge and correct problematic actions and beliefs within ourselves. We all have the ability to change the world for the better by first changing ourselves. That change starts by learning, and learning starts by listening.
Image taken from the Black Lives Matter community Facebook page.
Edit: I was nervous about even posting this and within 5 seconds of posting a link on twitter I got negative feedback from someone who I think had a knee-jerk reaction to a white girl posting about this. Which I understand. But at the same time I personally do not believe privileged parties should remain silent; I firmly believe the exact opposite. As a feminist I strongly believe that men who identify as our allies are obligated to be vocal about it, that they should use their privilege to speak to other men and help make spaces safer for the necessary conversations for change. As a result I also believe it is my responsibility to use my white privilege to speak up. Just like men are able to speak out against gamer gate without fear of being doxxed, I am able to speak up about injustices such as Ferguson knowing that the worst I will have to endure are angry ignorant internet comments because privilege is super fucked up like that.
As I said I am still learning. If ever in my attempts to speak up I get something wrong/ say something problematic I want to be told. I want to know what more I must do, what more I must unlearn so that I can contribute to solutions rather than to the problem. So if in this post, or in any post I get something wrong please please tell me. But please also understand that I am doing the very best I can to be a good ally. I make a very conscious effort to educate myself at every opportunity.