Monday, July 27, 2015

On Sandra Bland & Racism

Odds are, this is probably going to be the longest apology you're going to read today. Ever since Mike Brown's death, Eric Garner's death, Tamir Rice's death, and now the highly suspicious death of activist Sandra Bland (as well as hundreds of other black Americans whose names are escaping me at the moment) some wheels have started turning in my head and today I'd like to share what they've churned out. There seems to be a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding regarding concepts such as privilege and institutionalized racism, as well as an often misunderstood concept called Cultural Appropriation, which isn't going to be the main focus of this entry, but I will discuss it briefly. 

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last year or so, then you've probably noticed that black Americans of varying ages & backgrounds are dying horrific, unnecessary deaths at the hands of police. I'd like to think that we live in a fair & just society, as I WOULD LOVE to actually live in a fair & just society, but I've long ago accepted the reality of the world we ACTUALLY live in being chaotic, unfair, and occasionally downright cruel: This is a fact of life, "welcome to Earth" in all it's horror & glory, but I think that a lot of people who have this kind of mentality often forget that many of these kinds of 'cruelties' in life are easily preventable.

I'd hate to be a cop right now. Good or bad, people are watching the cops like their rights depend on it, mostly because THEY DO.

In my many past conversations with black squad-mates, co-workers and friends, I've noticed that certain jokes and anecdotes would often dominate those conversations. Most notable, sarcastic references to police fucking with them during traffic stops. Sure, I've been stopped by police for things like speeding or running a stop sign, but the worst that I'VE ever walked away from was a $200 ticket for having an expired registration (Note: In light of recent events, if you're ever pulled over within city limits of Westbrook Maine, it might be a good idea to have a camera handy.) True, my tags waere, in fact, expired, by a few months if I recall correctly; but every time I told my story among black Americans, the follow-up with almost always take a strange turn. For a long time it seemed very strange to me, that I just rather assumed that because the law said that cops HAVE TO regard the public fairly, that by default THEY WOULD. The general idea that I took from these conversations was that I could consider myself (a then-20-something year old white woman) lucky that they didn't pull me out of the car and kick my ass.

Up until recently, I thought of these sardonic responses with an air of humor to them. But lately, with every headline of black Americans dying in full view of rolling cameras, or even within jail cells, I can't quite summon the same cynical 'humor' that I used to. The more I see the parents & families of the dead plead for inquiries and investigations, I guess I no longer find racism "funny."

The fact that NOT ONCE has a traffic stop made me fear for my life speaks volumes to the sick reality of something called White Privilege.

I already know that I spend way too much time on Tumblr, but not for the reasons you're probably assuming (now that I've dropped that particular phrase.) Allow me to attempt to explain how concepts such as privilege ACTUALLY work, at least so far as I presently understand them:

  • Not having to be afraid of cops searching your home or vehicle without probable cause
  • Reasonable confidence in a prospective employer reading your resume AND actually calling you for an interview, especially if your name is a common one that is easily pronounced
  • The rarity of anyone looking twice at you playing your music loudly as you drive by
  • Strangers NOT touching your hair or asking you weird questions about it
  • The perceived "ability" to say the word without consequence... you know the one of which I speak
I realize that these examples aren't perfect, but this is the best way I can explain them because these are based from my own experiences, especially when I cross reference them with the experiences of those around me, especially people of color. I'll address the specific subject of the word later in this post, that's where the apology will come in. In light of recent events, both the suspicious death of Sandra Bland as well as the controversy about the Confederate flag, I will still adamantly defend free speech, but I must emphasize that free speech IS NOT freedom from consequence: If you want to wave the "stars & bars" from the back of your truck, regardless of your motivations for doing so, that's your right because it's YOUR property and therefore YOUR consequence to bear. As for flying it on State or Federal property, basically anything paid for by taxpayers, that's a NO-GO: Why should black Americans, or anyone for that matter, have to pay for that to be displayed on public lands? Why should I, as an atheist, have to pay for a 10 commandments "monument" to be erected on government property when they embody an institution that endorses hate and violence against me just because I exist? 

If it's a private citizen slapping a sticker on their vehicle or a flag on their own private property, then whatever; I couldn't care less what Jimmy-Joe-Bobby-Danny-Frank does with HIS OWN STUFF. When a GOVERNMENT ENTITY flies a Confederate flag, or puts up a giant cross, however, THAT IS NOT FREE SPEECH: That's showing undue favor toward a particular ideal that may or may not represent the people or their best interests, especially when doing so involves use of taxpayer money. Amazon & Wal-Mart no longer carrying Confederate flag merchandise is ALSO not (technically) a violation of free speech because they are PRIVATELY OWNED BUSINESSES, and their CEO's & Shareholders can make whatever decisions they please, and to the best of my knowledge, that particular decision was made completely voluntarily. 

Contrary to popular belief, white people CAN say the word: It's prefectly legal and is, in most situations, protected speech. We just have no fucking business whatsoever doing so, which brings me to my apology for having done so...

Sometime about a year or so ago, I remember getting into a discussion about race with some friends on Twitter. I don't remember what started it, exactly, but I do remember a brief discussion about the word and how there was a perceived superficial "difference" between black Americans and a group of people categorized under the word. This was roughly around the same time that Atheism Plus started evicting people from their elite ranks & pre-emptively banning people on Twitter for even hinting that they disagreed with their organization or their opinions. Again, they're a private entity and legally they can do so, but they still suck: Yes, I've somehow managed to find my way on their stupid little shit-list, but to my surprise, it's NOT for the reason I'm about to apologize for.

During this conversation, I recall making a tweet about "loving & respecting black people," and then "hating..." well, I used THE WORD. I used the word to categorize an entire race of human beings in the perjorative, I did so of my own volition but thinking that somehow there was an ACTUAL difference. I tweeted a racial slur against black Americans, I did this (at the time) thinking that I was being distinctive and "edgy" but in light of recent events, I now realize just how fucked up and wrong that was of me to do.

I am sorry: I should not have done this, I see now how divisive and damaging the word is, and in the future I promise not to use it again.

Some people close to me are probably going to be pretty pissed off at me over it, and I can't rightly say that I'd blame them: You have every right to be disappointed and angry at me, and please go right ahead and let me know if you do. Your anger is justified and I'm not even going to bother trying to justify it or explain it away. Twitter is forever, opinions and beliefs are not. The recent exposure of police brutality, as well as ongoing conversations about race and privilege, have forced me to confront my pre-existing ideas and opinions.

Especially in terms of language and actions.

I don't expect anyone to readily accept my apology, but I am genuinely remorseful for having done this.