I don’t know how to begin this post.
Where would I even start?
In the 7th grade, I fancied a boy (I thought he was cute and funny and I liked spending time with him.. his name was Dylan). As a 13-year-old, I naturally assumed that I must have a crush on him. I told him (or I had someone else tell him) and it never went anywhere; he didn’t feel the same about me. That was okay. We stayed friends. He was black.
During the same class year, I had another friend. An effeminate, expressive, and high-pitched white boy. Everyone in school made fun of him; “he’s gay,” the bratty little preteen professionals diagnosed. It turns out that they were right; he was gay.
In 8th grade, I had a sweet best friend; her name was Betty. She was a Jevovah’s Witness and lived a somewhat sheltered lifestyle like I did, but her mother approved of us hanging out together. When we weren’t running around together in public school (meeting up briefly between classes or sitting beside each other at lunch), I was at her house on the weekends, watching Jurassic Park, eating out-of-the-box Chef Boyardee pizzas that her mother made, and riding in the car with her family as they headed to the local community pool. Betty spoke broken English, so I had specifically signed up for a Spanish class at school so that we could communicate in her primary language. Most people simply referred to Betty as being Spanish or Hispanic, but specifically, she was Ecuadorian.
Betty and I had two other friends in our “circle”: Jordin (a sporty white girl) and Kim (an Asian girly-girl type) who always gave me, during first period, the cream-cheese-bagel-pocket-thing that the cafeteria lady put on her breakfast plate each morning.
In 11th grade, I met my first atheist on the school bus. His name was Sam. At first, I couldn’t believe that a real, live atheist existed, and I was fascinated by him. He engaged in a few discussions with me, but after realizing I was only interested in persuading him from his lack of belief, he disengaged and refused to talk with me. He was a nerdy white guy.
Over the course of the past few years, I’ve befriended and encountered all kinds of people: straight people, gay people, and transgender people; UAB students hailing from Malaysia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe; a cool musician with Lebanese and Jordanian roots, an ARC stories speaker who was born and raised in Romania, and an entire host of religious and non-religious persons.
And you’re thinking.. what on earth is your point?
This is my point: My experience isn’t unique. At all. Throughout our lifetimes, we all bump into people from all walks of life and from every corner of the world.. people who look different on the outside and who think and believe differently than we do on the inside. Meeting these new people – appreciating their differences and recognizing the similarities we share – is a beautiful experience. It’s eye-opening. I’m sure that, having met lots of different people yourself, you’d quickly agree that all people are equal and that all lives matter, but I’ve been surprised to discover, recently, that many people are troubled by the #blacklivesmatter movement taking place across the country. The dissenters seem to indicate that they feel like picking out one race of people and then “elevating” them above the rest is showing special treatment. I very respectfully disagree. Why? I’d love to explain.
We have to remember that slavery in America ended only 151 years ago. That’s just a tad bit more than a century and a half.
And we would also do well to remember that racial segregation became outlawed just 52 years ago. Fifty freaking two; that is only half of a single century. My own grandmother can vividly remember drinking out of a different water fountain and using separate store entrances from colored people. That gives me chills. The fact that, historically, we still reside so closely to such dark and oppressive times is terrifying.
So while we can all happily affirm that, in present day America, segregation and slavery are absolutely illegal and that everyone is to be treated equally, reality still has a lot of catching up to do, as people have an unfortunate tendency to hold onto their prejudices. Anyone who disagrees with that statement is just being ignorant.
And many people are still racists. That’s a fact, and we all know it. You know a racist or two, I’m sure, and I certainly know some of them. I’ve spoken with them; they’re complete assholes. And guess what? Some racists are vocal about their views while others are closet racists. Some people aren’t exactly racists but they aren’t advocates either, so they’re just sitting right there on the fence, entirely unhelpful and uninterested in the welfare of others. In my mind, they’re just as lousy as the racists are, because if you aren’t being proactive about achieving real, genuine equality, you are partially responsible for the stubborn and deeply-rooted existence of inequality.
Since we’re talking about racists.. newsflash: Some cops are racist. Surprisingly, being a cop doesn’t make you immune to the heart disease of racism. But don’t get it twisted; not all cops are racists. In fact, I’ve never met a racist cop (not that I’m aware of; I only personally know two cops, and they’re both very nice). Want another spoiler? Here you go: Some doctors, teachers, ministers, cashiers, bankers, pet owners, librarians, and movie stars are also racist.. and this shouldn’t surprise anybody. Now that we’ve established that racists are still present in 21st-century America, the question is, what do we do with them? Should we just go ahead and kill off anyone we positively KNOW to be racist or anyone who we suspect might be? No. That’s a terrible idea; they’re human beings like the rest of us. Shitty human beings, but still. Okay then.. so don’t kill the racists.. but should we allow racists to kill someone who belongs to the race they’re discriminating against? Heck no; if we did, we’d all be goners, because there are racists in EVERY RACE. So what do we do, then?
Our society likes to pretend that what was happening prior to 52 years ago didn’t really happen; that colored people weren’t ever discriminated against, poorly treated, or cruelly murdered. If you can believe it, some people even deny that the holocaust and Japanese-American internment camps ever happened. But ignorance at a time like this is deadly. Those awful things did happen, and they aren’t so long-gone, buried in the past that people living today can’t remember what it was like.
So while all lives undeniably matter, right now, we need to be especially sensitive towards what’s going on with our black community. They feel like they’re being discriminated against and targeted, and it’s no surprise, because by all appearances, they are being targeted. Either accidentally – because of fear – or intentionally, due to racism. The cops who killed innocent black men and boys in recent years — what was their motive? The best I could do is guess, and I’m not going to.. but I’ll say this: Regardless of their motive, their actions were unjustified, the results were devastating, and the cops deserved some kind of consequence. So how do we fix this? How do we move forward in such a way that everyone feels equal, safe, and protected? How can we create a world where civilians aren’t scared of cops and cops aren’t targeting civilians?
I’ve hesitated to publicly talk about any of this, but I’ve been watching and listening to all of it, and here’s what I’ve observed this week: If someone isn’t talking about Pokemon, they’re talking about the recent shootings. Here are some things I’ve read and heard.
Tragically Ignorant Person: “Ohhhh look. Now they (aka ALL black people) are shooting our cops. Fantastic. Like that’s going to do any good. Why are black people so violent?”
Why are black people so violent? First of all, quit making exaggerated, generalized statements. It was one black person with a gun who (tragically) shot cops in Dallas. One. So the pronoun you’re looking for is “he”.. NOT “they.” Secondly, did you hear about what went down at Columbine years ago? White people are violent, too. Do you need a hundred or so other examples? Because I won’t enjoy doing the research, but I can find them for you. Point of this is: PEOPLE in GENERAL are violent. Everyone has the capacity for violence, and if it goes unchecked, they will demonstrate violence. So you need to remove color from the equation completely before I slap you. <the bit on slapping? That was a joke.
Here’s another one.
Small Minded Human Being: “I just read that there’s going to be a protest -aka, riot – downtown tonight. What kind of good do they think THAT’S going to do?”
What a fantastic question. What good will it do? Maybe you’d enjoy watching this video from 1965. Warning: It’s raw, jarring, and soul-crushing. And while we’re at it.. “protest” does NOT equal “riot.” The march in Birmingham on Friday was very peaceful.
Self-Absorbed Stupid Head: “I hate that my children are having to grow up in a world like this.” The unspoken but understood part of this was that they were implying that unruly and violent black people were the cause of this ‘mayhem.’
This last one was from a white person, of course, and part of me really bristled when I read it. My internal response was:
“Oh.. I’m sorry that your privileged white kids will have to watch colored people being targeted and discriminated against on the television set. I’m sorry that they’ll have to see them unjustly KILLED and then hear newscasters CRITICIZING members of their community when they cry out in pain and anger over their loss. And I’m really sorry that they’ll have their dumbass Pokemon bullshit interrupted by such devastating and dramatic and deplorable life events.”
But instead of strangling the person, I said nothing. I just continued mulling over it all and asking myself, how can I actually help with ANY of this? We can’t all just say: “Well I can’t really do anything about it,” because someone HAS to do something..
But violence is not the answer. Me slapping and/or strangling idiots isn’t going to help at all, and randomly targeting cops because you’re mad that (a) cop made a poor decision is insanity. It’s senseless. It is cruel. Just like Alton had friends and family who cared about him and who are now grieving his death, every single one of those poor cops did, too. Stop and consider how much pain has been caused in just the last week. No one deserves to be killed, and matching one senseless death with another is madness. It’s heart-wrenching. Now — while no one in their right mind would agree that targeting cops would equate to obtaining justice for the death of an innocent black man, I’m also not on the side of glorifying cops as ‘faultless protectors’ and just glazing over incidents where one of them gets trigger-happy and makes an INCREDIBLY poor judgment call. Cops who murder innocent people should face serious repercussions (like losing their jobs and standing trial and going to freaking jail).. but just like the person they killed shouldn’t have been killed, the killer cop shouldn’t be killed either.
So if we aren’t going to kill each other, what the heck are we going to do?
When I was skating at Railroad Park yesterday afternoon, my dad called my cell phone. I answered and continued moving across pavement.
“Hello, beautiful daughter!” His voice began. “Where on earth are you? It’s frickin’ noisy.”
“I’m skating at the park,” I answered into the phone, breathing a little heavily as I transitioned from a patch of bumpy, brick flooring to a path of smooth concrete. After catching up on recent life stuff, I mentioned that a protest had taken place downtown the night before. I wanted to be a part of it, to show my support, but I was too scared to go.
“Man.. I’ve seen the videos.” My dad’s voice changed a little. “They just pinned that guy down and.. shot him.. the kid was right there in the backseat..” his voice trailed off. “It makes me so mad. And now cops are dying, too.” He paused and let out a sigh. “People just don’t get it; returning hate with hate isn’t the answer. Love is. I wish I could make people see that. It’s so simple.”
“It is simple,” I agreed.
We got off the phone shortly thereafter. As I continued skating around the perimeter of the park, I began spotting sheets of paper taped everywhere.. to benches, lamp posts, concrete walls, and telephone polls. There was a different message printed onto each one. I read every paper that I passed, and I can recall these statements:
- We want equality.
- We want to be heard.
- We want peace.
- We want a voice.
We want a voice really resonated with me. I’ve used words – I’ve used this blog – to sort through so much personal shit over the course of the past 6 years.. the unraveling of my faith, my brother’s sudden death, the throbbing loss of a treasured childhood friend, the beginning and end of my marriage, my gender identity madness, the shrouded mystery of my sexual orientation, my adventures with raising a German Shepherd and baby Holland Lop rabbits, and so many other things. Blogging – picking and crafting words in a public forum – has been incredibly empowering for me. It’s allowed me to – in the comfortable world of cyber space – lay my scattered thoughts out, sort them, group them, evaluate them, and then share my ideas, revelations, and carefully-concocted conclusions with the world. Doing this has given me such clarity, and that clarity has given me such peace. I love seeing transparency in others, and I love being transparent myself. I have no hesitations with putting my thoughts, my beliefs, and my story out there, because I firmly believe that writing words and speaking words are two very important ways of connecting with others. And I think that writing and speaking — that using your voice however you choose to use it — is a viable solution to what’s going awfully wrong in the world right now.
If you punch me and I punch you back, we achieve nothing.
If you shoot me and I shoot you back, no one’s going to fare well.
If you’re angry and lash out at me and then I return your anger with my own anger, both of us are walking away mad.
But if something bad happens or is happening and I choose to collect myself, take a firm stance, and decisively speak out against it.. using written or spoken word.. then positive change can happen. Because when people hear words or see words, they have no choice but to think about what they’re hearing.
Words alone aren’t going to change anything, of course, but words are inherently powerful. They convey what both a hug and a bullet cannot. They appeal to the mind and the heart. They implore you to think, and reason, and to consider whatever’s being shared. Words can change your mind, words can activate your mind, and words can work magic on your heart. We need to use our words to fight for true equality, and even when we think we have secured this equality, we need to be prepared to defend and protect it at all times if anything or anyone threatens to take it away.
Carefully and thoughtfully chosen words enable you to move past misunderstandings and reach the truth lying underneath them. They can help you communicate fears and feelings that pictures and hand gestures couldn’t convey. Words allow you to express yourself without infringing on the rights of others, and when words are written down or spoken aloud where the public can read or hear them, they make impressions, and those impressions create waves. The effect of words is electric. You’re reading my words, and now you’re thinking of your own words. You’re about to read my message, which I’d also like to pose as a challenge:
We have to consistently and confidently speak out against racism, violence, and inequality, wherever and whenever they rear their ugly heads, and right now, you know that black people are being targeted. So rather than throw out some blanket statement that “all lives matter” (when the validity of that statement is not being questioned), here’s what you can do to help: Be an advocate in the fight against racism and discrimination. Use your words; write them, speak them.. be brave enough to take a stand, and then don’t waver when you do.
A meme that’s circulating on Facebook stated it way better than I possibly could.
Of course every bone is important. But if I break my leg while I’m skateboarding later this afternoon and then rush to the doctor and ask him to please fix my broken leg and he argues that ALL of my bones are important, I would want to break HIS leg. But instead of resorting to violence, I would use my words to nicely remind him: Doc, I love every single bone in this body. I believe that every single one of them is super important, and I honestly can’t do without any of them, but right now, my femur is split into two jagged pieces and my flesh is on fire, so this bone needs special attention and care right now. My other bones aren’t – at this time – in some kind of critical state like this one is, and in the process of fixing it, I’m going to need you to be especially sensitive and gentle with it, because it hurts. It really, really hurts.
I’ll be fighting for equality (for people of all races, religions, and orientations) until the very second that I die, and when I am dead, I hope that the written words in my blog will echo me and help someone, somehow.