Dear White America,
It happened again. That issue that you keep trying to ignore, hoping it will go away. That is, when many of you aren't actively, furiously, angrily, assigning blame to the very people who have been so grossly injured, and for so long, in the first place.
But it doesn't go away. Sweeping it under the rug doesn't make it disappear. I'm not sure if my contemporaries know what that saying even means anymore since the culture has changed so much that sweeping and rugs aren't even things that go on the same way. So many things have changed so much. But this lingers. It affects everyone, even those who think the way to handle it is to shunt all of those other people off to a corner where they can't hurt all of us good people. It doesn't work. In wars everyone loses, even those who have supposedly won. And until you care to understand the real reason for these periodic outbreaks of unrest they will keep happening. And your own halcyon lives will be put on hold. Until you actually fix this. For everybody.
This round started with another silent protest, a simple gesture, as civil and respectful as it is possible for such a thing to be. But the outcry was unbelievable. How dare that person tell us we aren't perfect. How dare he point us to something better and say we weren't there yet.
People keep telling us we are a Christian nation, which is so full of ironies I don't even know where to begin. A very large percentage of the book that Christians claim is so important is full of prophetic writings which take the very same tone as that protester. Ceremonies don't do it. Caring for your neighbor is what I want. Says the Lord, that's who!
I've seen pictures of that president who once walked to a church across the street from the White House, tear gassing protesters all the way so he could hold a Bible upside down and look purposeful. I'll bet he has no idea what's in that book. Particularly a verse from Isaiah, chapter 30 verse 13: "your sins are like a high wall which is about to burst and fall down on you." Another verse from the later in that book has some crazy mystic (named Jesus, I think) saying "those who want to keep their lives will lose them." Now there is something to think about.
In times of crises we always do this backwards. We want to preserve ourselves and our status quo. We feel threatened and we think if we meet perceived force with real force it will keep us safe. Some guy is out for a stroll in a park and someone with less melanin in their skin thinks they are a threat to the American way of life and the way to fix that is to call security.
So the last time, when people carrying signs were getting beat up for putting words on them others did not like, I was not surprised. I remembered the fire hoses. Then came tear gas and rubber bullets. This is how power always responds. Out of proportion and with a deep sense of anger. And always with not the least concern for anyone but itself. And then, invariably, the problem doesn't go away, because power is only out for itself. And it knows most of the citizens similarly worry about what might happen if things change.
America is like the lazy parent. Two children are in the backseat of the car while mom is driving to the grocery store. One child is punching the other. "Mom!" one cries. "Billy is hitting me!" Mom yells "cut it out, YOU TWO!" This does not fix the problem. Billy realizes that mom is not especially concerned about his behavior. She just wants things to be peaceful. And so, as the hitting escalates until he is beating the ever living crap out of his sister, he is not worried about being punished. And inevitably, "Mom! Make him stop" delivered through tears this time, is met with an angry reprimand. "Kayla! Knock it off!" The little girl learns her difficult lesson. It is not justice mom is after, she just wants everything to seem peaceful. Any injustice is OK as long as you don't say anything about it. But disturb "the peace" and that is a grave sin. Eventually Kayla is going to have to learn to take care of herself, and on that day Billy better watch himself.
So this time, when well spoken, calm, peaceful melanin-Americans tried to get society's attention, and were ignored, and the inevitable wave upon wave of stories about wrongs done to our darker-skinned brethren kept leading to nothing but acrimonious debates and no real change, there was, once again, a flash point. And that threat of imaginary violence that had led so many citizens to call out their personal security force on their fellow citizens for looking scary to them became, for a while, actual violence, which must at all costs stop. Because it is the property damage that scares us. Not the reason it is happening. We want to keep our lives, just the way they are. But somehow they keep slipping through our fingers anyway.
We didn't learn the right lesson the last time, and so it is happening again. Racism, like mustard gas, gets everywhere. You can't hide in a gated community and escape it. It still finds a way to diminish your life. Even you at the top of the pecking order. And still you won't change.
So there were riots. Cities burned, largely with the help of white agitators trying to reboot the Civil War, and then, when we thought we couldn't take it anymore (which was pretty quickly), hope emerged. The worst thing of all.
We started seeing pictures of black folks hugging white folks again. Police kneeling, and even joining the protesters. Protesters protecting police with their bodies from other rioters. Signs of humanity in the midst of an inhuman chaos. It made us feel all warm inside. A symphonic swell rose in the movie score of American life. We relaxed, and smiled, and realized things were going to be alright after all. Life got back to normal. The social contract resumed. The nightmare was over. Except for one tiny, nefarious detail.
We didn't fix the problem.
The national appetite for having things seem normal has certainly been challenged. It is not a surprise why people want to go back to feeling calm and peaceful and secure. But it is one of our deadliest enemies in one of its most hurtful disguises. It lulls us to sleep when we most need to be awake. It guarantees the cycle will begin again. For many it never stopped from the last time. When you can't hear their cries anymore, take those things out of your ears and listen. Because if you don't, eventually they will pierce your soul.
We have to do better this time.
A concerned American