“The long memory is the most radical idea in this country. It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we’re going, but where we want to go.” –
Bruce “Utah” Phillips, 1935 – 2008
It’s 4 a.m. and I’m wide awake in America. I went to bed early and woke in the middle of the night. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to check my email. Just real quick and then I’ll go back to bed! Right, famous last words.
I’m not much for the oft-longed-for days of yore (usually the 1950’s midwestern USA) where men were MEN, and women cooked and cleaned all day in high heels and pincurls, and the gleaming white future stretched far away into the horizon with a peachy-keen glaze of sunshine and profit. It was a great time to be alive, as long as you were Caucasian with a penis and believed in the right God and didn’t lust after the wrong sex. A simpler time, a more authentic time!
Okay, yeah, I would have stuck my head in the oven probably shortly after birth.
However, I do sometimes wonder if certain aspects weren’t preferable. Like the inability to wake up at 4 a.m. and watch a stream of videos featuring shots being fired, cops being murdered. Peaceful protesters chanting “don’t shoot!” being interrupted by a volley of gunfire. Screaming, running, falling, panic.
All of this in the wake of two more incidents of cops murdering Black citizens. Yes, I know, one of them was daring to resist arrest. But call it what you want, I don’t care. If you have one cop kneeling on your chest and another on your arm, you probably don’t need to be shot point blank three times to keep you subdued.
As for Philando Castile, a well-dressed Black man in a car with his girlfriend and child, pulled over for a routine traffic stop, he seems to have done everything properly in the “hey I’m Black but please don’t shoot me” handbook. I personally can’t wait for the Cirque du Soleil-level contortions that people will work themselves into in order to blame him for his own brutal death.
Actually, it’s already begun. You literally can’t see the #BlackLivesMatter movement mentioned anywhere without the 3..2…1….”omg #AllLivesMatter. #WhiteLivesMatter!! Why are you making this about race??!” And my favorites so far from tonight: “But STATISTICALLY more White people are murdered. Why is this being ignored?” plus”I got pulled over one time and I did exactly what the cop said to do and I DIDN’T GET SHOT SO THERE.”
Because, you know, if Blacks would just stop being so uppity and mouthy, they wouldn’t have to die.
Additionally, that isn’t how statistics work. Blacks comprise about 13% of the US population, yet are 8 times more likely to be murdered. And last time I checked, police officers don’t get to just execute humans for not being good, scared little sheep and doing as they’re told.
In the coming days and weeks, things are only going to get uglier. The slaughter of those cops in Dallas will give the people who already didn’t care a firmer foothold for racial hatred. The insults will fly fast and furious over Facebook and other social media. Much like with the presidential election, everyone will insist on completely polarized opinions. If you’re not on my side, you’re an idiot!
The problem with this is that reality is rarely that two-dimensional. Reality is complexly multi-faceted and humans are able to hold multiple and even seemingly contradictory concepts in their minds at the same time.
Me, for instance, I think the cops were wrong. I think this country is riddled with systemic racism that most of us are in deep denial about, echos of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, redlining and much more that haven’t faded away no matter how much we would like to pretend. As dear old Utah also said “The past didn’t go anywhere.” It’s kind of insane to believe that 40 or 50 years is enough to heal wounds that reached so deeply.
At the same time, I don’t believe violence solves violence. I can understand being beaten down and silenced and cornered until you feel the need to lash out. Until you feel you must retaliate in kind if your voice is ever going to be heard. (I often feel the same way about women’s issues and gay rights, when we’re told that we should just appreciate what we’ve been given and hush up now.)
But those cops in Dallas were not the cops who need to be punished. Burning down and looting your own communities will not teach anyone anything. It not only doesn’t help, it gives your detractors another little ego boost. “Aha! SEE. Blacks are animals. They deserve what they get!”
My point here is, I can hold both of those concepts in my mind. The killing cops are wrong. The cop killers are wrong. If you feel the need to be on one side or the other, ask yourself why you believe sides even exist.
The only “side” I’m on is the one where there is something fundamentally broken in this country. We’ve forgotten how to come together and work for a common goal. We’ve forgotten that what makes -or made- this country the place where foreigners dream of living isn’t the homogenized whitebread houses all identical in a row. It’s the riotous, beautiful, seething mass of difference. It’s that we are all unique yet choose to stand together. We can be ourselves and defend the rights of others to be equally themselves without demanding that they assimilate to our own ideas.
There are no simple solutions, but I think one of the first steps on a complex path is giving up our own egos and admitting we might not be right. We might have to admit that the sides we’re on are an illusion. The illusion is what keeps us fighting. The fighting with each other is what keeps us docile and exhausted.
You want a real revolution? Put your hands up. Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot with guns OR words. Stretch your hands to the sky and try to gather in the thoughts and pain of everyone around you, listen for once instead of just reacting.
My hands are up and I am standing beside you and we can disagree without being enemies. We can disagree without anyone else dying.