Instead of a Friday Photo, I’m posting a Friday Video. This song by Stevie Wonder has been discussed as one of the best protest songs ever. Released in 1974, it is still timely.
Reposted with permission from Grace Kelley. The original post appeared on Tuesday, September 13, 2016 on The Millennial Falcon, All the list-icles that are fit to print.
The Truth About Interracial Marriage in 2016
Yesterday, when the shooting of Terence Crutcher started going viral, I posted this as my Facebook status:
“All my Facebook memories are about how [husband] and I were going to get married in a week this time last year, or how we were about to celebrate our one-year anniversary six years ago, but all I can think about is how I’ll have to hold him a little tighter tonight.”
I was hoping to give people a little glimpse into my reality, but I’m not sure everyone got it. So let me spell it out for you: I have to hug my husband a little tighter because he’s Black.
I have admittedly not been in an intra-racial marriage but I am constantly trying to show people that my marriage and theirs are not terribly different. My husband and I bicker about the normal things: chores, his front seat driving, whose responsibility dinner was on that particular day. We were asked about our biggest, most recent fight in pre-marital counseling and my husband said, truthfully, that it was about Sansa Stark’s character growth, or lack thereof, on Game of Thrones.
But the differences are pointed—notice how I said “front seat” driving earlier? That’s because I drive us everywhere. On paper he is the better driver; I have a few fender-benders on my record, and my husband will tell you that he has witnessed us almost get into many fender benders in the duration of our relationship. The short answer for why I drive everywhere is because he has terrible car anxiety. The long answer is I have terrible car anxiety, for him.
We are fortunate enough to say that we only have one sour experience with law enforcement. When we were sophomores in college, my husband was pulled over. We were running late for a play because the local Chinese restaurant had taken an hour and a half to make our food for pickup. He legally passed someone on the dotted yellow line, not going above the speed limit to pass. (And this was a small state road, so the speed limit was 35. For my husband to pass someone while still managing to go that slowly means the person he passed was going REALLY slowly.) We drove to outside the theater on the college campus, he put his hazards on, and I dashed back to my dorm room to get the tickets to the play.
When I got back, there was a cop car with blue lights flashing. The cop and my husband were arguing, benignly but bitterly, that my husband had been speeding. I sat down in the passenger’s seat and in my sweetest, most innocent Southern belle voice said, “What seems to be the problem, Officer?”
The officer said that my husband had been speeding. I said I was there and I had not seen the speedometer go above 35. The officer looked between us and let my husband go with a warning dripping with racist contempt, even using the word “boy.”
Some people I tell this story to ask me with dramatic wonder if I think my presence saved my husband’s life that night. It’s one of those questions that reveals more about the asker than the answerer. I’m his wife, not his white savior, but I digress. I don’t think it would have come to that, but a dark voice in the recess of my mind says, “So did all the victims of recent police shootings. They didn’t think stopping their car on the side of the road because it broke down or reading a book while waiting for someone would ‘come to that’ either.”
And that’s what makes my bones feel like concrete when these stories come out. My husband and I got the same degree from the same prestigious university. We were both on the dean’s list. We got the same academic awards. He was an RA all four years in school—yes, even as a freshman—and former bosses, from Taco Bell in high school to his current position, consistently say he’s the best employee they’ve ever had. He is a son, a brother, an uncle, a husband, a human being. He loves video games. He is an excellent, inventive cook. He sings as frequently as you or I might breathe. He’s not even aware he’s doing it most of the time. Where there is air, he must fill it with song.
But if the wrong cop feels the wrong sort of way, all of that won’t matter, and my husband could answer for it with his life. All that we have worked for and will work for could be gone in an instant. Marriages that don’t end in divorce end by one of the partners dying before the other, and I am frankly tired of feeling like my days with him are numbered.
It hurts to see friends and family champion “family values” and then go on to use the hashtag “#BlueLivesMatter” or “#AllLivesMatter.” They write about how police officers have spouses and children who worry that their loved one might not make it home tonight, and I want to scream that I have the SAME EXACT FEAR for my family, but no, my fear is “unfounded paranoia” despite hours upon hours of cell phone footage that says otherwise, I and my husband have nothing to be afraid of if we really haven’t done anything wrong.
It’s not that I don’t respect and admire cops. Far from it. I’d say 90% of my interactions with them have been positive despite the fact that cops, like doctors, often see people during the worst moments of their lives. It’s just that people bristle when I demand that cops treat me and my family with the same respect and that seems . . . off.
It would save us all a lot of time if these “family values” people would just come out and admit that my little fledgling family doesn’t have value to them.
On Saturday, my husband and I leave for our honeymoon. I will drive. We are visiting relatives in Selma, where the Edmund Pettus Bridge is, and then we will get to the beach. We’ll agree that he should stay in the car if I have to get gas in rural south Alabama. He doesn’t need me to “save” him like the person I wrote about before seems to think, but my white bullshit-tolerance is higher than his.
A couple of months ago, I had a dream about our son. We don’t have kids yet but there was no mistaking that this child was half mine, half his. He had dark ringlets the size of pencils. Big brown eyes that will just make you melt. A dimple in his left cheek like his father and I both have.
I woke up in pain, not normal-stiffness but those concrete bones. Something has to change before we meet this kid. Something.
Last night I went to bed knowing that an unarmed black man was shot in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This morning I woke up to a news report of yet another black man killed by police in my hometown, Charlotte, North Carolina. Police say Keith Lamont Scott, age 43, wasn’t the suspect they were looking for in a search near UNC Charlotte. Right now the police say he had a gun, and his daughter says she didn’t.
Black men are being shot by police officers whether they are armed or not. Standing by a broken down car, waiting for a child to get off a school bus, or simply waking up as a black man, is a danger to that man’s safety every day.
It is life-threatening to wake up as a black man in the United States.
But, f you are a young privileged white man like former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, you can wake up, get crazy drunk one night, rape an unconscious woman, and then blame your actions on the party culture of Stanford University, where you were enrolled on a sports scholarship. The judge who hears your case, Aaron Persky, will sentence you for a scant six months because,”A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Persky said. “I think he will not be a danger to others.” And then you’ll get to go home after serving half of your “sentence.”
Brock Turner’s cakewalk with the justice system is one reason #blacklivesmatter is a very real issue in our country. It has been a long time coming. If you are a white person who feels threathened by what is happening in our country, imagine how it feels to wake up as a black man every day.
This is reposted from a new blog, by Ellen Oltman Kellner, Ellen is Okay.
In follow-up to yesterday’s post:
My son’s experience yesterday in Baton Rouge, and thoughts following. The militarization of our local police departments terrifies me. -Ellen Oltman Kellner
A few words borrowed from Rob
July 11, 2016
I don’t tend to post long statuses, but I find it hard to stay silent after what I saw in Baton Rouge. This post is intended to urge white people (myself included) to participate more fully in the movement against racism on all levels. I do hope you take the time to read this.
Yesterday, I saw dozens of police officers clad in riot gear and armed with assault rifles violently suppress a nonviolent protest calling for police accountability, peace, and justice in Baton Rouge. Despite the fact that the protestors were acting within their constitutional rights to assemble peacefully, the police arbitrarily determined that it was no longer a peaceful protest and forcibly removed people from the sidewalks and even from the home of someone kind enough to open her space to the demonstration. The police treated the protestors like they were violent criminals ready to riot when in actuality, the only thing that threatened violence was the militarized and aggressive police force.
It is this kind of confrontation, out in the open, that makes it so clear to me that the police (and I don’t necessarily mean individual officers, but rather the overall nature, culture, and function of modern American police) really does not protect and serve the American people so much as the status quo – which means, of course, that it protects and serves white people’s interests over the interests of black people. This is such an obvious and visceral fact to any person of color, but as a white person, it’s easy to avoid. I never even faced the threat of police brutality until I participated in this protest, and even then, I was significantly less a target than any black person was and I would have been subject to significantly less violence. Moreover, as a white person, this conflict could have been entirely out of sight and mind had I just stayed home and chosen not to think about it. For black America, there is no such choice.
I have also been reflecting on the nature of organized oppression and racism in America today and how it is not confined to police brutality, let alone such obvious confrontations with the police. Racism is supported by our criminal justice system, our educational systems, our health care systems, local housing policies, corporate hiring procedures, macroeconomic policies, and individual consumer decisions, to name just a few. In general, there are endless opportunities to confront racism in American society. And for white America, it is just as easy to avoid these confrontations in everyday life as it is to stay at home from a protest.
So white people, let’s not “stay home” – let’s confront the ways that racism impacts our interpersonal relationships, our workplaces, and our communities. Let’s support local leadership and vote to bring about change. Let’s focus on transforming the systems of oppression in a constructive and lasting way. Perhaps most importantly, let’s address and correct the ways in which our actions (or inaction) serve to uphold systems of racism. If we struggle to find any such opportunities, we aren’t looking hard enough.
I also write this in the hopes that you all will hold me accountable to do the same.
I leave you with this: as many leaders have said before, we cannot fully be free until we liberate ourselves from the role of the oppressor and inextricably tie our freedom to that of the oppressed.
Thanks for reading.
The Friday Photo
July 8, 2016
Deafening Silence: White Silence and Alton Sterling
Ryan Williams Virden, Form Follows Function
I want to start by being very specific about who I am talking to; this post is meant for people who look like me, those of us with white skin.
Many of you woke up this morning and heard the news about Alton Sterling, the 37 year old man who was shot and killed by the police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The sickening feeling in your stomach probably hit you hard as you watched the cell phone footage of a police officer charging and tackling Sterling to the ground. You knew what was coming next. And, within seconds you saw it: the police officer mounts Sterling like a UFC fighter. There is no confrontation. No struggle. Sterling is subdued and then another officer yells “Gun. Gun.” The officer on top of Sterling pulls his gun and within seconds fires multiple rounds killing Alton Sterling.
This morning my Facebook feed is full of yet another hashtag, #AltonSterling. So many of the Black and Brown people I’m connected to have no need to see the video. They say as much. They already know what happened, and, sadly, how this will play out. There is outrage; there is disgust; there will be calls for patience and to let the system work; what there won’t be is justice. And this is where I find myself this morning. Pondering my role in justice. What I’ve come to is overwhelming in its simplicity and crushing in it’s complexity. We are responsible for justice.
I don’t mean we in the vague and generalized sense that it is often used. I mean we, me and you, people with white skin. The reason this genocide against people of color continues is because far too many of us remain complicit in our silence. I thought about not writing this this morning. I thought about just retreating in my feelings of disgust, outrage, and grief. But that is not my job. Every time I, or anyone of you, retreats into silence we breath life into the killing machine. Every time we urge restraint or make apologies, or rationalize this brutality we are degrading our own spirit. And make no mistake this is a spiritual endeavor. Our souls are being crushed under the weight of whiteness. How much longer can we take it? How much longer can we acknowledge how broken our world is and ignore the weapon used to break it?
I also don’t mean justice as in jail time for the police. Though that would be something, I think. I mean justice as in creating a world that truly values the lives of Black, Brown, Asian, and Native people. I mean a justice that leaves no need for an Ethnic studies curriculum because truth-telling is already the curriculum. I mean a world where #BlackLivesMatter and Native Lives and Latinx Lives and Asian Lives. I mean a world where Donald Trump would be embarrassed to show his face, and my students wouldn’t chuckle at the idea of not having to struggle. I mean that kind of justice. We are responsible for ushering that world into existence.
The first step to creating this justice is to understand how it was sidelined in the first place. We must understand the way that whiteness — fitting into the Anglo-Saxon archetype –has been valued historically via formal avenues such as legislation and school curriculum as well as informal ones such as social customs,traditions and practices. Because much of this is passed down through generations, or happens away from public scrutiny, or is largely implicit it is necessary to learn and then unlearn this sordid history and way of being. Once we can come to grips with the ways whiteness keeps us from our own humanity and strangles our souls there is no other choice then to struggle for this justice. We won’t struggle because we are trying to help anyone else, or feel bad for them; we will struggle because our own freedom, our own humanity, is tied up with everyone else’s. As we continue to bear witness to whiteness destroying communities of color while cannibalistically devouring those of us with white skin this unlearning is the only choice we have if we ever hope for peace.
This last week a petition went around calling for the firing of Jesse Williams because his speech at the BET Awards was “racist.” When Shonda Rhimes heard about it she shut it down quickly, this is positional power, and it’s a real thing. Well, white folks have positional power in society. Once we have unlearned whiteness (and even before that) we need to be using this power not to simply name our privilege and then cower behind guilt, that is about as weak as weak gets; we need to use it to stand up and demand fundamental, radical, structural changes. To fail to do this is to betray humanity, it is to betray ourselves. There must be no compromise here. There is no compromise with the humanity of our brethren. This is especially true on days like today, days when whiteness has taken another life. Left another family fatherless. Left another community in mourning trying to survive loss. These are the days when our voices need to be the loudest, they must be clarion voices calling for the dismantling of whiteness.
The silence is deafening and it must be broken. Lives, ours included, depend on it.