Just when I learned to order my venti-hot-soy-chai-two-extra-pumps-no-foam-no-water in a single breath, Starbucks joins the list of companies I have to boycott because racism. Bad enough that my Sundays are spent football free, now every morning will be an exercise in fuming on all black people are left out of in America–peace, justice, Starbucks single stall bathrooms and lemon loaf. Unlike the NFL, Starbucks is already hard at work to win back my daily $7.65.
Starbuck CEO announced in an earnest apology video that they will be closing stores on the afternoon of May 29th to train all of the employees in the whole company with a mandatory “implicit bias and conscious inclusion training” He describes below that this is the first step in trying to live out their company values. Ahh, back to chai heaven, right?
Wrong. While I applaud the company’s willingness to respond and respond big with a company-wide shutdown, I wonder if this reactionary-proactive-action will have the desired result. As someone that frequently engages in racial dialogues and trainings, I have lots of questions. The massive scale of this concurrent training sounds grand, but I wonder about how you could effect such a training with consistent results at 8,000 stores in different geographic areas and different local contexts, with thousands of different trainers of varying experience and tens of thousands of people with varying lived experiences and beliefs. (I picture an army of facilitators armed with lattes and flip charts deployed en mass–but from where? ) And what will they learn? And if they discover they have implicit bias, will this trigger any work on company policies and practices? After the training, how will we know if they’ll arrest us if we go there if we don’t go there anymore?
My other question is aimed not at Starbucks alone: is implicit bias the tool we need to help private companies address racism in their practices and customer interaction? There can be no doubt that implicit bias training is all the rage these days–and it is an important and eye-opening first step for people unaware that humans carry biases. When discussing race, it can be a helpful entry point for conversations–we all carry around ideas that we are not in control of, some of which relate to race and dominant cultural ideas about race. We all have implicit biases– it’s important to know that and think about where we each may have an inclination to shut down or react strongly.
But the thing about implicit bias is that you are not in control of it–it is operating unconsciously, ticking away in your brain with no help from you. Racism, however, is not something lurking beneath our id waiting to stir our sleepwalking self to acts of discrimination. Racism is systemic, embedded in principles, practices, policies, and actions of institutions and the individuals who work in them. People not only have implicit bias BUT ALSO act out on subjective ideas and beliefs about race. Learned behaviors and attitudes about race are conscious parts of how people interact with each other, how they make decisions–conscious decisions–about how and when to enforce policies. Acknowledging and taking responsibility for the ways that we reproduce racism in our own environments takes more agency and deeper engagement than acknowledging implicit bias alone.
Implicit bias is one of the few places where we can measure the trace of racism or sexism in the brain. Since implicit bias is data-driven and testable, it appears to be a “more scientific” approach to talking about racism than examining history or acknowledging the political significance of race. But race is a social construct, and years of social science, political science, and historical research has afforded us deeper, more nuanced and more complete ways of talking about and addressing race. While implicit bias training is a nice start for an afternoon, it lacks the depth needed to address racism in all its complexity. Well begun is not half done in this case. If we really want to go there, Starbucks and our country would be well served to look at the many conscious ways discriminitory practices are enforced, reconcile them with their company values and build a new more equitable relationship with the communities they serve.
When they do, I’ll take a venti soy chai with two extra pumps, no foam, no water, no racism.
The power of the best artists lay not only in their ability to show you the now but their skill and imagination to show us what’s next. There can be no doubt that Lemonade shows us a more sophisticated and woke Beyonce.
Two weeks ago Beyonce released her visual album Lemonade like a Kraken, instantly flooding the interwebs with thinkpieces dissecting everything from the symbolism of Nigerian facepaint to the marriage of her parents. She was even able to crowd Trump out of the headlines for a few hours, and make MSNBC question if they ousted Melissa Harris-Perry too soon.
By the following Monday Lemonade was spiking downloads at Jay-Z flagging music service Tidal. A day later, traditional release of the album propelled it to the top of the charts. After sipping this instant classic for a few weeks, it seems unimaginable that we ever lived without it.
The visual album is an hour-long piece that is more visual poem than music video. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the time–beautiful, lyrical and rich in every way. It is a full meal, not meant to be captured in a few screen shots, that walks us through the stages of a relationship in crisis from intuition through anger, apathy to hope.
What has made the video such a breakout piece is the powerful pro-black woman story. Rarely are black women represented in complex ways that allow their full humanity to show through.
Following the monster release comes a wave of products, tours and gossip magazine covers. Now we’re left with the fallout, the dregs of the hype, the parodies. This is the perfect time to look at Lemonade not for the hype of what it was to be, but to see what it really was. Pop culture is a dish best served cold.
Beyonce has been a star since she was a child,and her discography as a solo artist has helped her achieve megastardom. She is a talented singer and dancer. Her albums celebrated independent women, then she became Sasha fierce, fell drunk in love, sipped watermelon, and turned into Mrs. Carter in that order. Until recently she was not particularly woke, so even though Lemonade is powerful, and recent times have changed many of us, it’s worth a careful critique of Lemonade before we make Beyonce the head of the black feminist movement.
Lemonade is for Black women
Mainstream media is made for mainstream audiences–and in America, that means white audiences. When we see diverse faces in media, that doesn’t mean that the story comes from diverse voices. Even ABC’s multicultural programming is inclusive of white audiences–think the president in Scandal or the whitewashing of Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat.
Lemonade creates a space for black women that is about, for and starring black women with tons of diversity throughout the extensive credits for the album. The representation in the video celebrates black women in all their diversity, from the mothers of slain boys to the new breed of pop culture superheroes like Amandla Stenberg. Seeing a range of women like this beautifully and powerfully represented definitely gives me life.
That doesn’t mean that it is ONLY for black women. It may be created for black women but anyone can consume it. Like Vogue, or America for white people. If you want to comment on it, just make sure you check our own privilege (this may be time-consuming if you haven’t thought of it before, Piers Morgan), do your research (I’m looking at you, Fox), prepare for clapback and absolutely avoid telling black women what they should or should not do and stick just to your point of view on the video.
2. It takes a village to make lemonade
The visual album to Lemonade is a powerful and beautiful piece of work crafted by a team of young artist and creatives. remember, even Michelangelo didn’t paint that whole ceiling alone. While Queen Bey reigns as the artist, like lots of famous artists, she farms out the massive work here. On the visual album, Kahlil Joseph is listed as co-director with a classroom’s worth of amazing directors and cinematographers taking on parts of the visual album.
In addition to the music of lemonade, poet Warsan Shire is heavily featured in the visual album. I must admit the most moving words of Lemonade for me belonged to the poet. Her language is powerful and spare, leaving no words to hide behind. Here’s hoping we hear much more from this young lion.
From the streets to the spirits to the days of the old south Lemonade proves the power of Bey and associates to slay…..as long as you don’t want to wear pants, not a lot of pants..just a few, but not really about pants.
Lemonade’s look is a world of black girl magic with nary a press and curl in sight. While many of Bey signature looks are from high-end designers like the Roberto Cavalli Dress, the whole is interspersed with street wear and plenty of African wax prints to render the style her own. Be careful of spreads that promise you the look for less–
Not sure any of these will really give you the look of a $4000 gown. While Bey’s original look is beautiful, like all things associated with Lemonade, this look takes long cash.
3. Lemonade isn’t cheap
As amazing as Lemonade is as art, when we I to check the price tag, I notice committing to Lemonade fully is going to cost you. Lemonade premiered on HBO with solid ratings–though notably behind Dragonball Z. Initially, the album could only be downloaded via Tidal. Guess she wasn’t too mad at Jay to throw a bone to the company the couple took a hit on last year. The album sold nearly 654,000 copies the first week and all 12 tracks made the charts, breaking Taylor Swift’s record. Seems like breaking up is good business for Bey.
The Queen is also launching a 40 city tour with tickets priced like used cars that’s selling out and adding shows. Before the tour gets hot she’s already grossed 100 mil. Can’t make the show? She had updated merch on her website that is sure to sell out just like her athleisure line. All in all, this stands to be one of her most lucrative year in years. Maybe she should be thanking Becky with the good hair. Hmm, is there a Lemonade weave line potentially?
Bey assured us in Formation that the best revenge is getting your paper and she sure seems hell bent on massive revenge. Seems like her fans are willing to pay to make it right. Even Jay-Z will get a cut with his credits and a boost to Tidal. Who said cheaters never win?
4. Lemonade is problematic (great, but problematic; chill please, Beyhive)
I watched the video, and I listened to the album and surprise : they are not the same. The visual album is rich with the words and work of a whole host of people and seems to tell a big story about being a black woman in this world. The musical album, by contrast, seems a more intimate and personal story. Stripped of Warsan Shire’s poetry, and the powerful visuals that call up our ancestors from West Africa and the south, the album is the personal story of a woman scorned. Fox News criticized Beyonce for being angry and militant in her new work but [with the exception of Formation which stands as its own piece separate from the narrative and I think is not part of the visual album. It seems much newer than other work, just tacked on at the end] the album is apolitical. Nowhere in the album are any words that directly address the storms being weathered by Black America nor the women shepherding us through it.
Instead, Lemonade is full of emotions, the pain of love lost, and the fight to get it back. These emotions are deeply relatable for anyone cheated on, not just black women. That’s important because a large part of the buying Beyhive is not young black women fighting for justice. The album speaks to her wider fan base. If you have a broken heart, this will help you for sure. If you are down for fighting patriachal oppression and systemic racism…umm…the vibe is there but the ablum lacks any substative take on today, unlike to Pimp a Butterfly or Talib Kweli’s collective Indy 500. What has been roundly hailed as an ode to black female empowerment seems to contain very little liberation.
In Lemonade, Beyonce tells a story where she discovers him cheating (Pray You Catch Me), tells him he done her wrong (Hold Up and Don’t Hurt Yourself), and goes out without him (Sorry). But then the storm has passed and the rest of the album is devoted to the work of getting back with Jay. All of the righteous anger turns into acquiescence, and acceptance. If even Beyonce puts up with doggish behavior, then what chance do any of us have to be women free from disrespect? Here is the first time in the piece that we see Jay Z, just a hand to cover her mouth, much it seems to her pleasure.
For sure relationships are complicated, and marriages even more so, but young women intent on overturning harmful structures could use a roadmap that includes some truth with the reconciliation. They are looking for new options, not a romantic return to gender roles. Detrmined to have their cake and eat it too, why not use the fantasy of music to show how liberated women get themselvs–and their men, if they choose –free. Romance? Cool, but could you put some respeck on it?
5. Lemonade is supposed to have a bite
Beyonce opens up a can of whoop-ass fueled with the pain of black women only to sweeten it with love songs and finish with sweet love all night long. How is this supposed to gel with the powerful women fighting for freedom that she shows in the film? Should Zendaya look to forgive people that said she smelled like a dirty hippie? Should Mike Brown’s mother’s “torturer become her remedy”? That certainly wouldn’t look like the freedom Beyonce sings about.
Like most stories about revolution these days, the revolution always seems to have a simple happy ending. Nice as that may be to end an album, it does little to help us envision a world where we’re truly free. If we tear down the culture, we have to build something else in its place. If the new something is the same as the old something, then the revolution failed. As exciting as it is to see black women represented in different and complex ways unless we have new endings, its all bullshit.
Black female empowerment isn’t a music video or a gap ad, but a real shift that is going to take a baseball bat to existing structures without a neat end to the love drought just two songs away.
The power of the best artists lay not only in their ability to show you the now but their skill and imagination to show us what’s next. There can be no doubt that Lemonade shows us a more sophisticated and woke Beyonce. Her careful read of her audience and the culture give us an exciting companion to other protest works like To Pimp a Butterfly or Indie 500. Here’s hoping that she keeps developing as an artist and blazes us a trail to better endings full of Freedom instead of swag.
Ockham’s razor tells us that the simplest answer is the best answer. Just under a year ago, there was a massive push to get cameras on cops after the Mike Brown shooting. But this simple answer has not been enough. What cameras have given us, instead, is a front row seat to police violence. We can watch and judge for ourselves what is happening. We can point to the murderous truth of bad police shootings. Still it keeps happening.
The recently released footage of the stops of Sandra Bland and Sam Dubose are shocking only in the scope of tragedies contained in their footage. Those who already know Black lives matter are heartbroken again. What the police video assures us is that if we step out of line, some cops will not hesitate to hurt or kill us. That if you speak out, your rights will mean nothing. That if you hesitate, they will not. That if you run, you are as good as dead. No matter if you are a man, woman, young, old, wholly innocent or unadjudicated suspect.
We watched them kill Tamir Rice. We saw Sandra Bland’s bad stop before her death in police custody. Poised for reaction, Cincinati officals released the the footage of Sam Dubose murder along with a warrent for the killer cop. What these incidents tell us is that cameras are not enough. The video in none of these cases helped to preserve the lives of the victims of police violence. While two of these three cases will lead to charges against the officers involved, the introduction of video into policing has not stopped officers from taking the law into their own hands.
The fact that cameras alone have not stopped extrajudicial police killings means that there are deeper issues at play. So, what are the other blocks in this justice jenga?Implicit bias in individual and the system, and a public slow to condemn violence against blacks (even as they weep about Cecil the lion). Camera are giving us the data we need to acknowledge some of these deeper issues so the real work can begin.
Why would a cop murder someone knowing he is wearing a body cam? Perhaps he doesn’t care–he is a true “bad apple” lacking conscience or control. He’s a socipath. Maybe the murder of Sam Dubose was so out of control that he didn’t care what the tape caught. In this case, the body cam could prevent future crimes against citizens now that he is behind bars, but the broader fix is to address hiring and training of police to prevent disturbed individuals from holding rank.
Maybe a cop would act out on tape because he believes his partners and fellow cops will hold the thin blue line and cover for him or her. Crazy? Like a fox. We’ve seen countless cases this year when the official story was a cover job to keep a bad cop from facing deserved justice. In this case, we need an overhaul of our justice systems, a radical reimagining that creates checks and balances, systems that ensure that law enforcement is accountable and responsible to those whom they are hired to protect and serve.
Think about your job. How many of your customers could die at your hands before you would be fired and policies would be reviewed? I’m a teacher–the answer is 0. If a student dies in the care of a school, or a customer dies while eating at a restaurant, the public cries for justice and reform. If a citizen dies at the hands of the police, the public may ask what he or she did to deserve it. Racism has pervaded American culture since the introduction of enslaved Africans at Jamestown. The bias against people of color must first be acknowledged and then addressed before we can celebrate the achievement that is the America of the Declaration of Independence.
I remind you that the police have no legal justification for shooting unarmed citizens. but our discourse languishes in the relative culpability of the victims. For those of us who value black bodies, these videos traumatizes us. We are watching people die time and time again, people who look like us, like the people we love, people that are us. Just as a fabulous commercial with your favorite celeb is engineered to make you think that you too can be that, so too do dash cams remind us, like a burning cross, to stay in our place or be executed. I say to you don’t despair, don’t give up, don’t believe the hype. Black lives matter isn’t a slogan, it’s a simple truth and a siren song that has guided us from slavery and jim crow to civil rights and the white house. As protesters in Cinicinati chanting Kendrick Lamar’s words last night reminded us–we gonna be all right.
The story that we tell is the life that we live. Each word is a critical building block in what we come to regard as truth, a truth so massive and all encompassing that we have a hard time imaging the giants hands that build these cities of words. But we build them. We tell the story of America every day in a million voices, some soft, passed from mouth to ear while others squawk at us for hours across the airwaves. The loudest voice tell us what we believe, what we saw. The tell us what to know–with or without the facts. So it matters if we call the Charleston Church massacre terrorism–or not. Here’s why we should.
What we know is that on the evening of June 17th in one of the most historically significant black churches in Charleston, South Carolina, a room full of people came together in peaceful worship and prayer, welcoming into their midst without a second thought one who would, moments later, shoot nine people in cold blood. What we know is that the killer intentionally and with great malice and forethought chose to kill those people because they were black. What we know is he has made this clear with a manifesto of deep racial hate fed by the crop of white supremacy that is marked by segregation, feeds “bad” cops and grows inequality in all of our systems. Fact: this is an act motivated and expressing hate of black people, intended to inflict fear and terror.
Have no doubt that what happened in Charleston is an act of terrorism. According to who? How about the US department of defense:
The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.
Or perhaps you prefer the FBI’s definition:
Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.
Still don’t believe me? Well neither did the FBI–they have yet to declare the attack terror, though the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into what they term a terror attack. It’s not just these agencies that disagree. In fact, there is ample debate in the mainstream media about what to call this act–hate crime? terrorism? Rising above the debate and cries of mourning–is the steady drumbeat of apologists: he was a quite boy. he was a good boy. this is a lone wolf. Don’t make this about race. Define racist. Define hate. Define humanity–and then we’ll decide if he violated yours.
Now it the time to push for crimes against black bodies rooted in racist ideology to be called terrorism. Far from purely academic, calling the Charleston shooting terrorism recognizes that this attack is one of a larger battle–one we are loathe to admit exists–against the ideology of white supremacy. A war on terror requires us to root out the very ideology at play–in this case the white supremacy that has been fueling violence across our country since its birth. Calling it terrorism requires us to use time, and money and human capital to cut off the legs of supremacist groups to stop them from spreading a net of propaganda to lure in the hateful and the violent.
Calling it terror means we won’t stop at prosecuting Roof, but we’ll also go after the organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens who helped radicalize him. We will be able to use the considerable resources of the FBI and the department of Homeland security to go after white supremacist radicalized hate as stridently as we go after radicalized islamic hate groups.
Calling it terrorism would keep presidential candidates from taking money from hate groups to assure political support free from the eyes of their constituency. This war on terror could cut off funding streams that fuel hate groups and their supporters. I’m looking at you Rick, Ted and Rand…and Mitt, in case you return.
Calling it terror will make clear to all Americans that a black man shot by a white man over ideology will receive the same justice as a white man killed by a muslim over ideology. Calling the Charleston massacre terror won’t politicize it–it will depoliticize our one-note approach to terror so we can finally begin to attack it. Assuming that all terror is committed by radicalized muslim extremists ignores that most victims of ideologically motivated hate crimes are victims of racial hate. And Blacks are more likely to be the victims of a hate crime than any other racial group.
Calling it terror requires us to remove the ideological roots of the hate–like recent calls for removing the rebel battle flag flying by law over the South Carolina state capital and removing it from official government items like the Texas license plate. Before we celebrate these most recent victories, the SCOTUS decision was 5-4 and the flag will only come down after 9 (more) deaths and (another round of) protest. We’ll have to be vigilant about being honest with the remains of racism that still permeate the symbolic life of America.
Roof’s manifesto–available on the internet in case any investigators had been tracking him–reveals a deep complex narrative of hatred for blacks, not one created by Roof alone, but one that is the heart of white supremacist ideology for hundreds of years. Have no doubt these statements are weaving the same old story that has sanctioned violence against blacks in this country since the days of the lash–a continuous story that says blacks are not human, that violence is required by those policing whiteness to keep black bodies in check. Refusing to call the attack terror and searching for mitigating factors to excuse the killer’s evil intent are salt in an already painful open wound. This resistance to recognizing and acknowledging this incident as terror is an indicator of white supremacy’s chilling effect on racial dialogue.
The fight against terrorism is a multibillion dollar effort in the United States and around the world waged with American tax dollars. But terror lives among us, too. If you believe black lives matter, if you want to live in a world where we can all truly be human, then it’s time to strap on your helmet and turn our resources and our minds to the terror at home. To acknowledge the violence perpetrated against a select group of humans doesn’t take away from our humanity–it ensures it. It ensures that we see where inequality exists so we can cut out the disease and begin to heal.
These numbers refelct the best info available, which isn’t saying much. Police killed in the line of duty as tracked by the Officer Down Memorial Page, and includes officers killed in auto accidents–26 last year. Since they do not parse who caused the accident, I included them. Civilians killed by police tracked by Killed By Police Facebook page–I know, I know, a Facebook page doesn’t sound credible but this is more reliable than FBI statistics, which reflect only “justifiable” homicides. For more on the lack of stats, visit this Five Thirty Eight post on police involved killings.
Tonight in Ferguson Missouri, prosecutor Bob Mc Collough announced that Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged for shooting and killing 18 year-old Mike Brown in front of witnesses at 1 in the afternoon August 9th. While the prosecutor confirms Darren Wilson was responsible for killing the unarmed teen, the grand jury, led by the prosecutor, did not return an indictment. Darren Wilson is now a free man. The announcement comes floating on a flood of calls for calm from everyone from the governor and the attorney general to Michael Brown’s father.
Since that night in August when Michael Brown was shot down in a residential neighborhood of Ferguson, protesters have applied steady pressure calling for accountability for his killer–Officer Darren Wilson– and those in the system who protected him.
Thousands of people in dozens of cities have staged legal and peaceful protests seeking justice for Mike Brown, despite a widespread media narrative that has focused on stoking fear of violence and retaliation from the black community both in a Ferguson and across the country. There are two important points to consider about massive coverage of “potential violence.”
First, focusing on the potential for tension and violence, rather than the reason for the protests and anger positions the black community as ‘problem people’ deserving of repressive measures of control. In the days leading up to today’s decision state agencies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on gear to be used against US citizens protesting injustice by the American government. That’s enough to make conspiracy theorist sound like they might be on to something. After the massive show of paramilitary gear in August to deal with protests met with a massive outcry, the authorities’ only lesson seems to be “bring bigger guns.”
Secondly, media narratives that frame peaceful protesters as blind mobs bent on violence and destruction of personal property, justifying strong armed retaliation of the police, keeps the focus off the injustice at the heart of the Mike Brown case. While news stories in the days leading up to today’s announcement focus on preparations for a hurricane of violent protest, Darren Wilson has already negotiated a quiet exit. Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since August 9th. Given the lack of an indictment Wilson was eligible to return to work on the force. That he could negotiate this at all adds insult to injury–he was legally able to return to patrol the same streets that he shot Mike Brown on, despite dozens of eye witnesses to his unlawful use of force and the continued potential of federal civil rights charges. Today’s decision is clear evidence that we have yet to shed a history of racial disparity in our justice system.
You may say, as many will in the days to come, that if the grand jury decided there was not enough evidence to indict, then Darren Wilson remains, legally, innocent, and therefore, no racism occurred. Let’s be clear: racism is the systemic exercise of power advantaging one racial group over another. The shooting was just the first in a long string of points of tension in Ferguson.
In the Mike Brown case we have seen authorities exercise power in their own interests over those of Mike Brown, the community or the constituencies to whom they are responsible. Despite widespread calls for the police chief and the prosecutor to recuse themselves, they have refused. Calls for independent special prosecutors trusted by both sides were denied. Information leaks, clouds of tear gas, FAA restrictions on media and hundreds of arrests, including the arrest of many high profile civil rights activists and peaceful protesters, line a trail of racism from Mike Brown’s body to the steps of the Missouri courthouses.
And now after months of peaceful requests for action on behalf of Mike Brown and the people of Ferguson, justice is again thwarted. Don’t get mad, they say. Don’t act out, they cajole. James Baldwin once said, “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
To be assured that if you are a black man you may be stopped by the police and shot down in the street like a dog. To look at young black boys innocent before the world paints them as wolves. To send your husbands and sons–and daughters for that matter–out with the knowledge that they may be targeted by those sworn to protect them–this is the reality, and one well worth your rage.
Now is the moment not to fall apart, but to fall together. Since Wilson has not been charged, double jeopardy does not apply and another prosecution of Wilson is possible. Remember, any decision on federal civil rights charges in the case are still pending, so there is still opportunity for national pressure to bring justice in this case. . Whether black or white or Latino or Asian, we’re all responsible for keeping the American dream of freedom and equality for all alive.
Don’t be distracted by fear mongering and race baiting. Let your anger today be a weapon polished with knowledge and drawn in civil action against those who think you too uncivilized to fight strategically. Fight with tweets, fight here with words and letters and here with marches. Fight with your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.
After a recent discussion about Ferguson in my college class, a students asked me, “What should I tell my 3 year old son? ” The very idea that he will need to know about systemic racism when he is Mike Brown’s age breaks my heart. Despite today’s decision, this cannot persist. We as a nation must do better. Nurse your broken heart today, and then lace up your gloves.
It’s been 22 days since Michael Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson and left to lie in the street like a dog. For the first time in three weeks, the story of the shooting, the protests that followed it and the insane military police response is slipping down the news cast and out of the spotlight.
Much has been said in the last three weeks about the case, about race in America and what we should or shouldn’t do about it. A lot of what has been said is important and thoughtful, from addressing the systemic racism inherent to the case to exploring a wide range of activist responses for black people and white allies.
There has been a provocative and valuable outcry against media representation of black people, particularly #iftheygunnedmedown, which paired two pictures of a young person: one more socially acceptable and one stereotypical. The hashtag asks which picture is like to accompany a story of them being shot by police.
I haven’t yet said anything about the case. I’ve written to you a thousand times only to crumple up the web page and throw it at the wall. I’ve written through all the stages of grief, though admittedly too much from anger. In the end I am left feeling that there is little worth saying that has not been said a thousand times already. I don’t mean that I want an idea that stands out, I mean only that this seems too much like a script from beginning to end that I’ve heard before: the incident, the outcry, the authoritative denial, the protests, the smack down, the prayers, all devolving into an argument about whether racism exists.
And here is where I get stuck–in the face of a case that throws systemic racism into clear view, the dialog still trends to denial. I find my writing has been a defense, a plea that this is racism, that what the people protesting in the streets are saying is true. That black life matters.
In a Pew Research Center poll, less than half of respondents thought that the Michael Brown case raised important issues about race, and 40% thought that race was getting more attention than it deserved. The division deepens when broken down by the race of respondent.
Despite a million tweets and a thousand blog posts that clearly outline how and why the police shooting of unarmed black men is a problem, the public response, especially from non-black people is one of doubt. It reminds me of this scene from color of fear, a documentary about race when a group of men participated in a long dialog to untangle issues, and this happened:
Despite the wail of protesters, despite the avalanche of facts of he activists, despite the dead bodies of black men lying cold in the ground, still people choose not to believe.
Police kill black people with impunity. Race is the issue. Please imagine a summer when a young white mother of five was choked to death going to the store, when a recent white high school grad was shot in broad daylight, when a laid back young lady was shot while browsing Walmart with a sporting good sold in the store under her arm. You must imagine it because 5 white women weren’t gunned down by police this month.
This is the heart of white privilege. It’s not just accumulated wealth or housing or education or even political access; it is the power to deny the very existence of others and to negate their experiences even as they unfold before your eyes. It is the power to turn public discourse from the facts-in-evidence to your feelings while looking for the truth. It is the power to not see it, and therefore deny others see it. It is the power to think that others deserve what you do not for reasons that amount to little more than victim blaming and denial of overwhelming evidence.
In a country where some people are disadvantaged because of the color of their skin, there must exist a similar bias for people of the dominant group. Too often, we get mired in discussion about where the white whale of privilege exists–it does–and if this means all white people are living the dream– they’re not. But let’s not get sidelined by a conversation about white privilege.
The debate about white privilege masks an even deeper truth, one that may just draw us together. We are all–black, white, latino and asian–disadvantaged by a system of racial privilege. No matter your race, the shooting of Mike Brown matters to you and the ability of your family to life a happy life. Denying racism keeps the country dependent on a broken system. A country that is unfair to millions, that has laws legitimizing marginalization a and criminalization of some humans, while providing others economic and political immunity can never be safe, can never be just, and therefore can never be stable.
The massive militarization of American police forces was very profitable for the military industrial complex. Continued conflict between working- and middle-class whites and working- and middle-class blacks, stoked by a racist, fear-mongering mass media, diverts attention from the real economic challenges both races face in an increasingly corporatized culture. Since the recession, we’re all more aware of how close we could come to ruin. The politics of division don’t serve us. Fighting each other, and killing innocents when we have real villains lurking behind unfair tax laws and politicians’ pockets is madness.
Black, brown, female, poor, working class, elderly, disabled: isn’t a person on this list in your family? We can’t allow our national dialogue to run like a broken record every time evidence of inequity surfaces. We can’t stall out the conversation in “if it is”, or how to feel, and we can’t allow you to feel like you don’t have some skin in the games. No matter the color, your skin is a part of this system of privilege and disadvantage. You live in this game.
It’s time to end racism so we can unite to fight our greater challenges, like economic injustice and resource management. It’s not communist to want America to provide opportunities for upward mobility– currently we are 22 on the list of developed nations. It’s not un American to want our police and our politicians to represent people not super pacs. It’s not revolutionary to demand safety on your own street–it’s time.