Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Race War

I’m heartbroken…again. Michael Brown, Jr. gunned down in Ferguson, MO by a police officer in broad daylight, in front of many witnesses, his hands raised in the air. I am outraged, devastated by the loss of one more life in this racially broken country.
Michael Brown, Sr. holding a photo of himself with Michael Brown, Jr. 
AP Photo
The community reacted: some in solidarity and peace, others through looting and violence.

Memorial at the site of Michael's murder
AP Photo
I believe that individuals who are rendered powerless by the color of their skin (or their gender or their socio-economic class) and who cannot trust the very people sworn to serve and protect them will sometimes resort to violence out of desperation. What’s left to do when just living life may prove fatal at the hands of authority?  It doesn’t seem right or productive through the eyes of most people, particularly for those who live with the privilege of being part of the power group, but I get it.
How did the authorities react? With tear gas and rubber bullets and increasing military presence.
Police response to protestors
AP Photo
We are experiencing the systemic elimination of one race of Americans through an unjust and prejudiced judicial system, a privatized prison system, unequal educational opportunity, a growing underclass of working people, usurpation of rights and freedoms, geographical containment, and media stereotyping and omission.
Vigilantes and some police officers murder men and boys of color (and, increasingly, women and girls of color). Sworn to protect and serve? Not certain police officers and certainly not vigilantes like Zimmerman.
The trend is clear. Jim Crow may have hibernated for 50 years (I rather think he operated under cloak of darkness), but he is up and about and full of piss and vinegar. 
Police response during Civil Rights protests in Alabama circa 1963
Wiki Photo
We’ve lost ground we gained after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed. A seemingly large portion of those who identify as white Americans, particularly those who claim to be conservative thinkers and voters, don’t want to talk about it. Why? They support it. They vote for it. They demand it. They participate in it by arming up and acting on paranoia and fear. They don’t believe it affects them or their communities. They claim it’s their heritage, a heritage and history of conquering, oppression, and genocide. Others simply don’t believe race disparity exists or choose not to think about it.
There is a race war, but it isn’t the one the GOP and extreme conservatives are alluding to.
“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else...It's part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things. Well that’s not true.”
~ Rep. Mo Brooks, Alabama
The power of privilege is the power to accuse the victims of the very crime being perpetrated upon them by the powerful.
And men and boys of color are being murdered to support the hatred and fear of the privileged.
Why should a mother have to mourn the passing of her child when she should have been celebrating his first day of college? Why is she left with the legacy of her child’s murder as a symbol of racism in our country? Why should she have to shoulder that burden? My heart breaks for her and all the others who watched loved ones die: sons, husbands, brothers, nephews, fathers, students, friends, and neighbors. Why and how is that happening today in this country?
Because we are a racially divided country where groups of people are segregated by skin color and do not receive equal protection under the law. In fact the law targets people of color through profiling, confrontational stops and frisks, and harsher sentencing by the judicial system.
Privilege leads one to believe the police and judicial system are there for you and your kind only, sworn to serve and protect you while pursuing others. Even if you end up on the wrong side of the law you are innocent until proven guilty by a jury of your peers. Privilege gives one freedom to be wherever one wishes and to do whatever one chooses and to feel safe doing so. It’s privilege when one believes his way and his people are better and more deserving and more right than others. It’s privilege that makes one believe others are less than and deserve to be controlled and contained. It may appear to be invisible but there it is, wrapping around you, protecting you, giving you confidence, making you proud, and making you believe that the murder of black men and boys is justified or someone else’s problem.
There may be a lot of white Americans denying their role and complicity in systemic racism and the privilege they enjoy as white Americans. That's part of the privilege, the ability to deny and distance oneself or to just choose silence. They will feel anger as they read this post or hear people talking about racism.
We can stop the unfair advantage of privilege but only those that benefit directly from privilege can stop it, white people just like me. Not the victims or the people disenfranchised by white privilege and not the people who willfully support racism, segregation, and white supremacy.
If you are ethnically white and you do not support a racist society, acknowledge that privilege exists. Recognize that not everyone experiences life in America as you do. You don’t have to give privilege away and be tossed on the other side of it, but believe that every single American has a right to the kind of life only a sector of Americans, white Americans, exclusively enjoy. Let that thinking be your guide and your conscience.
Privilege is not just wealth. Most people don’t aspire to great wealth. Privilege is about feeling safe living in your skin and being you; living, working, playing and worshipping where and how you choose; and feeling safe and validated every day and every hour of your life as you negotiate your way in society. That was the spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We can recreate that spirit.
Put your hands in the air in protest. Vote in protest. Congregate in protest. Stand for equality, inclusiveness, and solidarity. Speak out against privilege, segregation, and injustice. Do it peaceably, because a violent response to violence only makes it worse, and gives the powerful and the privileged more power and privilege. 
Protesters standing as Michael Brown, Jr. did when he was shot and killed
AP Photo
I know we can be a better nation. We the people can declare the people of America to be equal, to have an equal voice and an equal vote, to enjoy equal protection under the law, to enjoy the right to exercise our freedoms in safety, and to know that those who are sworn to serve and protect us will do so in our time of need.

My heart is broken, but my spirit tells me we have to keep trying.