#BlackLivesMatter - Better Voices Than Mine

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I read something this morning which kicked me in the gut - “What #BlackLivesMatter Means To Me (Spoiler Alert: I’m Not Black)” by Isa Adney on HuffingtonPost.com. It’s not short, but it’s well worth a complete read. 

A few highlights which particularly struck me:

I would guess that most of the people using #BlackLivesMatter probably have the courage and strength to fight for this because someone in their life told them that they mattered, and now they're trying to get the rest of the world to see it too, not for themselves, but for the 7th graders.

But the kids who don't have those influences in their lives - someone telling them why they matter and how to ignore the hate - are in danger of growing up to believe that "people like them" cannot {fill in the blank with their hopes and dreams here}… 

And that's not okay with me.

And this:

I get confused and scared talking about my own identity, let alone someone else's. I didn't want to say the wrong thing. I didn't want to make things worse. I didn't want to say something unknowingly racist. I didn't want to add any more painful rhetoric to the mix. That's the last thing we need.

And certainly this:

People don't fight injustice because it's fun or because they're bored or because they want to start conflict or enjoy defending themselves and blocking people on Twitter who they thought were their friends. This stuff is not fun. No one wants to fight this fight…

Experience has taught me that if someone is saying they feel like they don't matter, it's really important to listen to what they have to say. Because it takes a lot of courage to say that out loud, knowing the backlash that's coming, knowing that some people will think you're trying to get attention, that you're making this up. Because somehow in saying you feel broken, some people think you're blaming them for breaking you and then they think they need to defend themselves because, really, they weren't trying to hurt you they were just trying to live their lives and do their best. But in most cases that defensiveness quickly turns cruel, making you feel like you matter even less, making you need to fight harder, speak louder, and the cycle begins again.

And I'm afraid of how many people have to die before that cycle breaks. The lack of compassion even now, after people were shot in a church, messes me up in my core, sends shivers up my entire body. Makes it hard to breathe.

I’ve tried before several times to express my thoughts and frustrations on this nightmare of an issue. Most were such rhetorical train wrecks they were never posted, and the few which were – while sincere in and of themselves – proved a bit awkward and incomplete compared to what I’d hoped.

Adney at least has the credibility of being a woman of mixed ethnicity – as in, she’s dealt with some of the headaches which accompany being biologically and culturally interesting. I’m an old straight white guy. A Republican until a few years ago. An evangelical back in the day. And I’m not even a proper progressive now – I’m just so $#%&ing sick and tired of watching people who look like my students getting killed under the most %$&*est pretexts, and why the $#%@ is this even a DEBATE?!

I’m telling you, it slices the conservative right out of you – quickly, and without anesthetic or proper sutures.  

After the smug and bewildering announcement by Robert McCulloch last November that it was all good that Michael Brown had been shot by police for insufficient deference and that the real victims – the REAL VICTIMS – were the grand jurors who had to TALK ABOUT THIS for a couple of days, well…

I kind of lost my mind. 

I had to leave social media and the blog for a few days just to regroup. 

I have a certain longing for social justice, but nothing as passionate or noble as many around me. Truth be told, I’m far more easily fired up by inconsistency and blatant bullsh*tting swallowed whole to salve consciences sick with cognitive dissonance and assuage collective guilt grounded in apathy. 

In other words, I wish my outrage were holy, but it’s often just… outrage. 

Hulk Avengers I'm Always Angry

I took to following numerous #educolor voices on social media, occasionally commenting or responding, but it didn’t go smoothly. Mostly I was simply irrelevant – a check to the ego, to be sure, but hardly shocking or offensive. I’m small potatoes, and contributed little more than ‘yeah, me too!’ most of the time. 

And I’ve made some friends – or at least developed positive rapports to whatever extent Twitter allows. I’m thankful for those who endure and interact with me – especially when I’m slow.

Then I was blocked by someone rather well-known, who I respected, and with whom I’d even had a few brief, positive exchanges. I never found out why, but suddenly every time I wasn’t welcome in a discussion or found myself misunderstood in a comment or unable to procure a reply to a question, it seemed more… collective? Alienating?

But who was I to fuss? Am I seriously going to get all offended or hurt because people who are confronting death and injustice and constant personal threats and character attacks via the anonymity of social media aren’t catering to my ego sufficiently? Really, Blue - #WhitePrivilege much?

So mostly I just shut up, retweeting or sharing the best or most important stories or comments as they came my way. The biggest difference has been in my classroom, where I’m utilizing the freedom of tenure to full effect by engaging students in conversations about current events and issues under the rather loose umbrella of American Government studies. 

Because these are my kids.

My Hispanic students are under no illusions regarding the stereotypes impacting them, nor are my Black students – although the young men tend to speak less freely of such things than the young ladies. My kids from miscellaneous ethnicities and faiths are surprisingly open about race, religion, and culture, and not at all bitter most times about the nonsense with which they must deal on a regular basis from friends as much as strangers. 

I have the most entertaining young lady of devout Islamic faith and far too much wisdom and insight for her years whose calling in life so far seems to be helping clueless peers transfer their good feelings towards her personally to the wider variety of people around them who are less comfortable being outliers. She does so with a constant smile, but I know it makes her tired. 

Stop killing my kids, you twisted $%#&s. I’ll pay for the candy bar or whatever, but stop tasering their genitalia while they’re handcuffed to a metal chair, you sick bastards. 

MY KIDS.

As I suggested earlier, though, my outrage is hardly pure. 

I’m bewildered and in a constant snit that we see so little discrepancy between our lofty American ideals and the treatment we’re allowing towards people of color by local law enforcement. 

I teach the Bill of Rights, and hate how often I must preface amendments with “in theory” just to maintain basic credibility. “In theory,” no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law. “In theory,” you have a right to be informed of the charges against you, and confront those accusing you. “In theory,” no cruel and unusual punishment is permitted. “In theory,” your right to be secure in your persons shall not be violated without a warrant based on probably cause.

“In theory,” all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. “In theory” these include Life and Liberty. 

I love our founding ideals, and these aren’t them. I’m bothered that more people aren’t bothered. It’s so damn wrong how many of us are OK with this, as long as it’s a bunch of ____________ who were probably asking for it because-you-know-how-those-people-are.

Each new killing sparks debate over whether or not the victims were ‘doing anything wrong,’ complicated by how often those playing for Team Protect’n’Serve lie lie lie until exposed, at which point they simply change the lies or choose some new justification which the rest of us gladly swallow because oh-my-god-wouldn’t-it-suck-if-we-really-had-to-get-our-souls-around-what-we’re-rationalizing? Somehow calling this out means hating cops and wanting them all killed - WTF?!

But it often doesn’t matter to me whether the deceased were stealing cigarettes or talking back or known to smoke a joint or two or whatever other things explain summary execution these days if your pigmentation prevents entrance to the ‘brown bag’ clubs.

Because that’s not the point.

We have some pretty lofty ideals about who we are and how government should work. Ideals worth killing the British over a few centuries ago. Ideals worth forcing the South to stay in the Union and give up their way of life. Ideals worth trotting out anytime we send our soldiers overseas to demand that others emulate or embrace us. Ideals cited anytime we wish to justify our economic or political maneuverings. 

The thing about ideals, though, is that they require application when it’s time to make decisions. 

If you’re only a vegetarian until that steak on the grill smells pretty tasty, you’re not really a vegetarian. If you’re only a devout Christian until it’s uncomfortable and you’d rather go along with the crowd, you’re not a particularly devout Christian. If you’re only a committed spouse until a really exciting opportunity to play around comes up and no one will ever know and besides we were drinking, that’s fine – but at that point you cease being a committed spouse.

Ideals are only ideals if they apply in real life. If they only work in the neatest, cleanest circumstances, they’re not really our ideals – they’re just stuff we feel better saying, but don't actually believe. 

If our lingering claim to fame as a nation is that we’re still pretty bad-ass militarily, have decent purchasing power, and that we’ve embraced a half-dozen spin-off reality shows built around a sex-tape protagonist, let’s go with that. America – the Chris Jericho of countries! The Rolling Stones of nation-states! The Yahoo.com of democratic ideals! 

Country music fans everywhere will buy the bumper stickers: “America – we’re still around in some form or another!”

But stop trotting out our damned founding ideals if we have absolutely no intention of applying them consistently and universally – to all people, in all situations, whether we like them or not. Forget the Confederate flag controversy – stop waving the Stars and Stripes if it’s only to cover up our comfort with killing one another, as long as the victims are primarily the dark or dirty ones we never meant to get along with anyway.  

Isa Adney’s piece is a far better read than mine, by the way. It’s thoughtful, and transparent, and honest, and so very well-written. She’s an ideal spokesperson for the perspective she represents. 

I’m pretty good at several things, but speaking thoughtfully or concisely on this issue doesn’t seem to be one of them. I’m so genuinely thankful there are better voices out there than mine.

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