The title of my most recent book uses the metaphor of “gender shrapnel” to think about how we get hit with gender and intersectional injustices and then have to figure out how it happened and what solutions are available. Today I want to talk about very real, lethal events—the actual bullets deployed to kill black person after black person in the streets of our cities. As I said in last week’s post about Fox News (citing Elizabeth Stanko), violence is not hidden. This violence has such a clear pattern, one that seems to demonstrate that we have normalized lynching. We know the violence exists; now, what are going to do about it?
The #BlackLivesMatter website states its purpose in this way: “#BlackLivesMatter is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. We affirm our contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression. We have put our sweat equity and love for Black people into creating a political project–taking the hashtag off of social media and into the streets. The call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation.”
In many ways, white people have not seen this as a white problem—ignoring the plain fact that white power structures are the problem—and have not supported #BlackLivesMatter in active enough ways. I am guilty of this too, in part because I have been trying to help to ensure that we don’t elect a president who has already made clear how many of our lives really don’t matter (e.g. building walls; deporting friends and neighbors; practicing religious exclusion; denying rights of women; lying, cheating, and stealing). I haven’t even participated fully enough in our local CARE Rockbridge (Virginia) events—only attending vigils and group protests, but not helping to organize or to connect us to groups beyond our community.
We must make clear that the lives of black people—young, middle-aged, unarmed, disabled, men, women—matter right here and right now. White people of all walks of life need to state clearly that this is a gigantic problem on the structural level and on the everyday, individual level from Ferguson to Minnesota to Tulsa and to Charlotte (and too many places in between). Alexa Sykes makes this case (here) much better than I do. Click here for an excellent interview that Sebastiaan Faber has done with one of Black Lives Matter’s spokespersons, Rosa Clemente. Clemente posits many of the questions we need before us as this anti-racism protest gathers more steam, and she includes the Afro-Hispanic population in her platform.
Two nights ago I watched a rerun of “The West Wing.” It was the episode in which a group of white supremacists try to kill Charlie, the African-American assistant to the President of the United States and the boyfriend of the President’s daughter. Several episodes later, as the white characters are sorting through the trauma (both physical and emotional) of the shooting, they recognize that what they had witnessed was an attempted lynching. Their delayed realization is portrayed in stark contrast to Charlie’s immediate understanding of the events. We need to shorten, then eliminate, this delayed response in the white population.
The night I watched that episode (which I didn’t know would have that content) was the night of the day I learned about Terence Crutcher’s death in Tulsa. I woke up in the middle of that night crying, then sorting through the reality of Crutcher’s death with the fictional representation of “The West Wing.” Little did I know that Keith Lamont Scott was being killed in Charlotte at the same time. Waking up—that is the comfortable metaphor for white people, while constant, fearful vigilance is the reality for black people. In fact, the following day, I was driving on I-81, trying to pass four gigantic trucks and not noticing that, as I did, the speed limit sign, obscured by the trucks, had changed to 60 MPH. I was pulled over, and I had the luxury of just handing over my license and registration and then receiving a patriarchal scolding and fine from the officer. My white privilege makes this traffic stop just a traffic stop.
What is the plan? Given that our streets are clearly not safe places for people of color, how can we protest together and create safe spaces in public to make protesting voices heard more clearly? How can we get our local and national governmental officials to put this issue front and center? How can we create regional and national coalitions to state the problems, clearly and without protecting white guilt, and create multi-pronged solutions? These solutions need to encompass a reevaluation of the composition, training, and deployment of our police forces; increased visibility of the day-to-day lives and concerns of our African-American and Afro-Hispanic citizens; increased representation of African Americans in all arenas, and especially in government. There must be dozens of other items that are not occurring to me but which have occurred time and again to others who have been more active than I.
This matters right now, damn it.