Racial divide and be conquered

chris9I read this post from the blog Gawker on a topic related to the racial tensions resulting from the inexplicable grand-jury actions in Missouri and New York that let a pair of cops who killed unarmed petty-crime suspects go free.

Aside from feeling that I need to take a bath, and that no amount of bathing will suffice to wash the ick of having read this self-serving racist blather away, I’m also left to wonder just how much a douchebag I am just because I’m white, and therefore, you know, privileged.

That’s the gist of this effort from a blogger named Kara Brown, whose thesis here is that white folks tweeting with the hashtag #crimingwhilewhite are co-opting discussions about race arising from the grand-jury verdicts, and basically, get the fuck out of the way, thanks.

“Nobody wants white allies to stop trying and stop fighting, but there are times when it is best to just sit down and listen,” Brown writes in the body of the actual post, pushing the envelope in expressing that thought, sure, but still within some amount of reason.

Then in the comments section, Brown gets into several arguments with readers that go beyond the pale, at one point accusing whites using the hashtag of “piggybacking” on the story to brag about their “white privilege,” and not, as many, many whites who support and work for racial equality have said, actually trying to educate white friends who don’t share their same views on racial issues.

“The idea that this hashtag is helpful because it educates white people is flawed. If you are a white person with a platform where other white people will listen to you, you should be using that platform to amplify the voices of (people of color),” she commented.

Because that’s how people learn, by being forced to listen to people that they don’t know and don’t want to hear from, as opposed to hearing it from someone that they know, respect and might actually listen to.

New hashtag: #typicalwhinyassliberal.

“Black people were already having the conversation about how differently black people and white people are treated by cops. We didn’t need this hashtag. It only detracted from a conversation that was already happening if anyone bothered to listen,” she commented in another thread.

“We shouldn’t have to redirect the conversation back to what matters because white people have taken it over with their personal anecdotes.”

In so thinking, and browbeating people who actually support the same cause that she does, Brown is adopting the stance that our slow-witted pols use to accuse each other of devoting too much attention to this issue or that issue when we all know that we should spend all of our time on this third, much bigger issue, as if nothing can get done if we don’t somehow get hundreds of millions of people to put their collective attention at the same singular moment on the same exact thing.

When in fact, there can be concurrent discussions in the black community and the white community and among Latinos and women and LGBTs about police and state power, policing techniques vis-à-vis people of color, protections or lack thereof for the basic civil rights of all Americans (and everyone else here living within our borders) and related.

The black community is not the only affected party in the grand jury verdicts letting the killer cops off the hook in Ferguson and Staten Island. The moral precedent set by the two grand juries, effectively codifying the right of police to use deadly force with impunity, has implications for Americans of all races, genders, sexual orientations, political persuasions and other ways we define ourselves.

We now sanction the old maxim about shooting first and asking questions later. If that doesn’t send chills up your spine, you’re already good with not having any real civil rights anymore.

So when someone like Kara Brown tries to tell me to “just sit down and listen,” sorry, but, one, no, and two, the same way you don’t like feeling talked down to, neither do I, and that’s not “white privilege” talking, either.

My “white privilege,” such as it was, had me born to teen parents, one a high-school graduate, the other quitting in ninth grade, being raised by a single mother in a trailer park, called “white trash” by step-family, eventually graduating with honors from college and starting my own business (no loans, no family money, no government aid, on my own) and making a go of it now going on 13 years.

Privileged as I am, I’ve seen firsthand just how dumb overaggressive police can be. My wife (white) was put in handcuffs by a cop (black) last year on a traffic summons involving an allegation that she had passed a school bus unloading children after school (dropped; unfounded).

Privilege, nice notion on that. We had voluntarily gone to the police station to meet with the investigating cop, and were talking with one of his fellow officers, who we had helped organize a book fair, in the lobby of a police department that we had assisted by donating work on a website that we designed and maintained to raise money for its police department foundation, when the cop, a rookie on school-resource officer duty, came in cuffs-a-blazin’.

From one moment to the next, my view of the relationship between cops and ordinary citizens changed, forever. My wife was cuffed; a cop accused of running a red light and smashing into a driver en route to answering a domestic-disturbance call two weeks prior was charged, but not arrested (and thus subjected to being handcuffed) despite being charged with reckless driving.

My wife wasn’t roughed up, choked out, shot multiple times. Neither should she have been subjected to being arrested and handcuffed for no good reason.

(We were told later that it was department policy when processing certain types of charges; yeah, exactly, bullshit. A cop was on a power trip. Is there a department policy on that? Of course, it’s unwritten.)

We, the people, black, white and otherwise, have let the state get way, way too powerful in relation to the rights that we supposedly retained for ourselves in breathing life into our constitutional government. Some of us like to say that we pay cops’ salaries, thus they work for us, and need to remember that when they’re out and about protecting and serving and the like, but it goes deeper than that.

Societies organize themselves for two key reasons: to protect themselves from outside attack and then to protect themselves from each other. The social structure is at its essence a defense mechanism that gets out of whack in situations where those tasked with operating the machinery of the state use the mechanism that we have designed for ourselves to keep us safe to instead keep us down.

We can follow the lead of the Kara Browns of the world and argue amongst ourselves about who among us is more victimized, or we can work together to force systemic change that gets the sinking ship righted and back on course.

Kara Brown needs to sit down and listen; this issue is bigger than you, individually, than any race. “White allies” aren’t on board to try to paternalistically lead black America to the promised land; we’ve got skin in the game, too.

– Column by Chris Graham

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