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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

#BlackLivesMatter is Us

Oh, what a week. Readers, life has been very hard of late. For me, I’m talking about me. First, I have to rewrite my sample chapter AGAIN. It wasn’t perfect the third time. And the brownies we ordered for the husband’s office party were stale and unsatisfactory. Then I had to look at the tuition bill for the 17 yo’s private college and take my fancy dog to the vet for shots. Then, I downloaded Pokemon Go, but I forgot my password and couldn't register the app. 

Life just gets you down, you know? 

Okay, perhaps sarcasm is not the way to go right now. Let me be frank, Readers. Here’s what I feel after the last week, after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, after the shooting of the police in Dallas. I feel frustrated. 

I belong to a generation that felt like we just missed out on the great, inspiring social movements of the 50s and 60s. I was too little to be a hippie and to march for civil rights. I am also of the the generation that thought these questions of equality were pretty much taken care of by those heroic Baby Boomers. I am the generation that got distracted and forgot to pay attention as all those gains were slowly and systematically almost destroyed while I experimented with Girl Power and other fake social justice stuff fed to me by that vast right-wing conspiracy that turned out to actually exist. While schools were resegregated, while voting rights were limited, while prison populations grew, while access to abortion dwindled; while education was eviscerated, the social safety net tore, job security vanished, and income disparity grew. While the NRA bought the Republican party and a couple of Democrats, just enough people to block meaningful gun restrictions. Well, guess what? I am paying attention now. 

What’s a liberal white woman like me to do about all this crap happening? The kind of stuff that makes you despair? We’ve got weapons. We’ve got racism. We’ve got violence. The husband and I had a long talk about racism and what we can do to make things better. But we don’t really know. Our particular government representatives, both state and national, vote the way we like, mostly. Should we move to a different state, where we would be in the minority politically, and get active? I’m ready to march. I’m ready to protest. I believe in democracy, just not in unregulated free-market capitalism. Clearly that is only for the wealthiest. 

I say first, listen. Bear witness. Pay attention to these racially motivated incidents. Be aware. It’s the very least we can do. 

I listened to an interview of Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer, half black, half white, author of an important book called, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, about how systematic incarceration of black people has created a caste system in our country. 

And second, talk. The husband and I were talking about what it would be like to be black parents of black children, to live constantly in fear, constantly under a sort of siege mentality and to wonder if calling the police in a dangerous situation could backfire on us. 

Really, there are no words for how terrible I feel about this situation. But we have to find some. Children want answers. I said to the 17 year old, the world may look like it’s going to shit, but that’s just because of video technology on phones. This racial profiling, harrassment, and murder of black people has been going on since black people were kidnapped and brought to this country in 1619. It’s not worse, really. It’s just really visible now. And visible has to be better than invisible. Right? Shit is still shit. But at least if you can see it, you can start to clean it. 

It’s easy to extrapolate from police shooting innocent black people (and latinos) and people shooting back at police in retaliation to the world coming apart and crumbling into pieces. But Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” And so I remember there are people working to change what’s bad, and they are using our system, which I honestly believe is fundamentally good, to do so. 

A friend's daughter works in prisoner education. Another friend is a lawyer who helps people know their rights and convicts navigate re-entry into societyAnd what about that amazing photo of the demonstrator in Baton Rouge, standing like a queen in her dress, calm, noble, and firm? That was inspiring.

That is why in my better moments, I think that this racial mess and all the attention brought upon it and the demonstrations are actually signs of change and hope. 

As I said to the 17 year old, it’s like the pimple bursting. It’s yucky, it’s awful, it’s hard to see beyond; but it’s really a sign that (perhaps) things are clearing up. 

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