Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Luxury of Lies

I've been trying to write. I've been trying to speak. I've been trying to think. 

All I have is anger, and horrible grief, and the knowledge that those emotions - coming from me, a privileged white woman - are nothing compared to what people of color feel every damn day. 

I want to be eloquent, but I'm cussing a blue streak in my head, over and over. What words are adequate right now? Many people have written well on the institutional persecution, torture, and murder of Black Americans - people who actually face the horror show, the farce, of American Justice. What good are my tears right now, what good are my curses? 

I'm not going to be killed by the police. If I smoked pot I wouldn't be demonized. If I carried a gun I'd be hailed as a normal, red-blooded American. I could eat Skittles and wear a hoodie, I could jaywalk, I could even sell a couple cigarettes. 

My child could play cops and robbers with a toy gun in an open carry state and be thought of as young. Innocent. Sweet, typical, adventurous, strong. That child wouldn't be gunned down in two seconds by a member of the biggest gang - state sanctioned and untouchable - in America: the police. 

My child wouldn't be considered a threat, because my child would have the mantle of power, his whiteness. 

Last night at the tree lighting event in New York, glittering singers performed as throngs of protestors shouted I can't breathe, I can't breathe. Just typing out those words has me in tears, frustrated tears, angry tears, helpless tears. And it took this long, it took high profile murders, for me to really acknowledge the truth - 

This is America. 

And we were lied to in school, because the lesson was always that racism was over in this country. The happy lies we were taught - that Martin Luther King fixed this all for us, that Rosa Parks changed public transportation forever in one brave moment of fatigue, that broken Black bodies were a thing of the past and nobly martyred for the cause of a post-racial America - are just that. They are lies. 

My little blonde head was filled with this complete and utter bullshit. I never thought to turn to my Black classmates and ask, is this true? Is this your experience? Are we all really considered equal, now? I never thought about talking to the Black men still sitting at the back of the bus, asking them why they wouldn't sit next to me, a white girl. It never occurred to me to question the pleasant narrative of equality and the same narrative which made me lock my car door as I passed the light rail stop populated by my Black neighbors. 

I am so damned ashamed. I've been a part of our racist culture my whole life. And I'm angry at myself. 

I'm angry that I was fed lies and I'm angry that we still lie, that we think of the police force as our protector and the Justice system as our salvation. I am angry that a murderer like Darren Wilson can call his victim a demon on national television and get away with it - that's not just an act of othering, but a clear statement on how so many white people see Black men all the time. 

I'm angry at how easy my life has been in comparison to the countless victims of mandatory minimums and random police searches and beatings and murders and mothers left without their children. I'm angry at my blindness. 

I'm angry that a major network prioritized a goddamned Christmas tree over the desperate pleas for dignity, I can't breathe. Hands up, don't shoot!

I don't know what to do. This is America. 

This is America. 

It is an America where I am free and others are very clearly not. It is an America which enslaves all of us in the blank smiles of mythology, Martin Luther King made it all better, and the police are just doing their jobs, and people should just obey the law or lie down or be polite or not talk back because if they do they won't be killed in cold blood and left to rot in the street. 

It is a place where white people feel good about themselves when they think, hey, I'm sitting next to a Black man at a lunch counter. I must not be racist. My third grade teacher told me so. 

How can any of us breathe through those lies? How can we bear it? 

We've been practicing our blindness for too long. It's a habit and it's our lifestyle - casual, effortless, every day racism. Not thinking about how our country still enslaves young Black men through our prisons. Not thinking about how we clutch our purses a little tighter when we pass a group of Black children. Going shopping and not getting searched. Knocking on a neighbor's door in a moment of need. Playing. Walking. Breathing. Living. 

If it is painful to acknowledge the suffering our fellow Americans endure - and I think it really is, for compassionate human beings - just imagine what it is like to suffer. To live a life where that dream is still deferred. To be strangled by injustice and by white hands. 

This is America. It has always been America. 

I don't want to lie anymore. 

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