We have a race problem here in America. I know no one likes to believe that, especially privileged whites. But it’s a very real and substantial problem for all of the Black and Hispanic communities across our nation.
As the country reels in protest over the murders of several young black men by police officers I am left here with my white privilege and no real words to express my own anger and disappointment with race relations in America in 2014. You would think that we would be much further along than this; much more evolved and developed, but it seems that that is just not the case.
Butch Jaxon wrote the best blog about this, which was published in the Huffington Post. I highly recommend this for reading to everyone. I take my inspiration and motivation for writing this post directly from my Butch counterpart’s article. I have been contemplating how to react or what to do to be part of the solution myself…but it’s a difficult place to be because I am white and have no real solid idea of what it’s like to be Black in America right now. I only have what I see and read, and the conversations I have with my friends of color to go on. I know a little about prejudice from my own experience as a Butch lesbian, being “other than” in the fact that I am otherthan straight and otherthan normal looking (I’m very masculine of center, and present as so especially after having had recent top surgery). I get glares and looks daily, I experience homophobia in my job and in public places, but it’s nothing compared to what my Black friends have to deal with every day here in this country.
Writing about race problems is difficult to say the very least, especially when you are a white, working class Butch lesbian living in rural America and don’t have much diversity of race in your own surroundings. It’s not like I can understand what it’s like for my Black friends, what it’s like to be ostracized for your skin color, to be beaten down, to struggle for equality, and to be beaten down again. And I am sure I don’t know the half of it when it comes to knowing racial prejudice.
Butch Jaxon said “I note that my black friends and family are not speaking out much on social media. They are silent. I imagine the pain is too much. I haven’t reached out because I don’t especially like it when straight people reach out to me after a gay hate crime or injustice. It is not my friends’ job to help me understand. It is my job to gain understanding. So here I am, part of the problem, I know, but not feeling quite like that. I want to be part of the solution.”
I too have to maintain my composure when scrolling through my news feed on Facebook and seeing the ignorant comments that some of my own friends are putting on their pages concerning the murder of Eric Garner by Officer Daniel Pantaleo. I can’t believe my eyes when I see comments like “Eric Garner is responsible for his own death” and things of that ignorant nature. I watched television news video footage of the assault, the choke hold and the aftermath when they were trying to check him afterwards, and didn’t even try to administer any life-saving help like CPR, but instead tossed him onto a stretcher and into an ambulance while complaining that it would “take 6 of us to lift him”…I was appalled, disgusted and ashamed for those officers.
So how am I supposed to think about this? I’m like Butch Jaxon, I’m “otherthan”. I’m white, middle class, but I am not highly educated, although I have a college education in common sense and street smarts. I have the privilege of having been born white, of having grown up in white rural Maine and of not knowing racial tension until I was over 18 years old and joined the US Army. I was brought up to treat everyone equally. My father had a very good friend who is Black when I was growing up, that was my only exposure to another race until I was in the Army. But I do know the prejudice that comes with being “other than” or “less than” because of my Butch lesbian identity and presentation. I know about homophobia, have had it impact my own life and have dealt with hate because of my sexuality and gender identity. I am not saying that this is anything even remotely like what Blacks and Hispanics have to deal with in this country. I feel that even our governments are corrupted with racial prejudice. I know our police departments need massive overhauls and endless retraining in race relations and handling things in a much better and more equitable fashion. And in today’s vast world of technology there is no reason we should not have collar cameras on every officer of the law – for our protection and maybe for theirs as well.
I believe that the police departments of America have been, or are being, set up as a miniature Army of sorts. They wield far too much power nowadays for the good of the people. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be Black and have to deal with the law. It’s like they already have one strike when they start, and that’s just not fair or equitable at all. The police departments of this country are procuring weaponry and equipment similar to the military now, it’s become a militarized force. And this force is being used against their own people, something about this whole build up of police department weapons and hardcore equipment just doesn’t sit well with me. Then I see protesters on television being beaten back, being gassed with tear gas, choking on smoke from smoke grenades and dodging non-lethal (?!) weaponry. (Remember the young woman killed outside of Fenway Park in Boston by the “non-lethal” bean bag shot from a police grenade launcher?) Non-lethal can still kill.
And how could a grand jury find Daniel Pantaleo not liable for any crime in the death of Eric Garner? I don’t understand it. I saw the same video…and while maybe we aren’t privy to all of the same evidence presented, I think the prosecutor in this case failed miserably. It was obvious what happened, the officer did not let up on Eric’s neck when Eric tried to tell him he couldn’t breathe – 11 times – and Eric died as a result of this neck choke hold. Someone has to be held responsible for the death of this young man; this son and this father…something has to change so that his life was not taken in vain. Something has to change so that more lives are not needlessly lost in this manner.
I, like many others I am sure, was very hesitant to write this blog because it’s just scary to write about race and cultural relations. It’s scary to try to address something that you don’t have daily experience with in your own life. But it’s even scarier to know that others like Eric Garner and Michael Brown are dying every day in our streets and cities from shootings and incidents like this. It’s obviously petrifying to be Black and to be pulled over by police in today’s rancid atmosphere of hate and violence. I can only imagine, and I can’t even do that justice!
I got pulled over by a cop 3 days ago in Portsmouth, NH. Because I has a US Army Veteran’s sticker on my truck the officer was very polite and cordial – even laughing – with me and even thanked me for my service, gave me a “warning” to slow down and let me go all within 5 minutes. It made me think, as I drove away, what if I was a Black Butch speeding down the highway like that…would they think that I had robbed the store and was making a get away? Would I have escaped with only a warning? Or would I have been hauled out of the truck and searched for weapons? All of these are stereotypes. And they are wrong. No one should be treated differently for the color of their skin, their sexuality, their gender, or their religion. Not in America. Not in 2014. Not today or tomorrow. Never.
I, like my comrades, have only one voice. But I have my little soap box here and my small, but deep, voice that I can use to try to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem. I can continue to speak about equality, I can teach my young nieces and nephews to the best of my ability, and I can not remain silent. As we said in the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the 80’s “Silence = Death” Silence is not the answer to this problem.
Another great line from Butch Jaxon’s writing was
“A minority cannot win rights from the majority without some help from the majority (Basic math)”
This is true in any fight for equality. As majority friends and allies of a minority group are needed to push for change, to make change happen, and to keep the momentum going forward. This is true of the marriage equality we’ve seen come to 35 + states now, and it’s been through joint efforts by the LGBT community and it’s majority allies that we’re seeing this change in attitude and change in rights. It was the same in the 60’s when our Black communities were fighting for equality so hard, it was also through help from the majority that things began to change…that change needs to KEEP happening, and it’s time for a new push for new legislation to protect American citizens from the over use of force by our policing and political parties nationwide.
All of the above is my opinion and how I see things personally. I don’t know the answers to any of the questions that I have posed here. I don’t know how to help, or how to react to all of this. But I know that I have a voice and I can use it positively given the right guidance and as I learn more.
To all of my Black and Hispanic friends I say this. I am sorry. I am sorry that I don’t understand and that I don’t know the answers. I am sorry for your many losses, and for your suffering and grief. I don’t exactly know what to do or say to any of you about this, please don’t think that my silence is me avoiding you, it’s me trying to respect you and I am listening, I am learning and I am aware that you are struggling. It sounds so small, but it’s the best I have right now, and I want to be part of the solution here as well. ~Peace~ ~MB