Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On Baltimore and Rage

I didn’t feel right saying nothing. So here are my brief thoughts on Baltimore.

Racism Is Real

Make no mistake: racism is real.

Institutional racism, like this wonderful story about Chicago cops torturing black men in police custody or the police brutality in Baltimore that has led to our present-day situation. Or the de facto segregation in New York City public schools. Or the shocking, inexcusable racial and ethnic health disparities in the U.S. Take your pick, really.

Idiosyncratic racism, like this gem from a conversation string on a friend's Facebook page:

Animals? Really? Additionally, Missy, you might want to check your definition of civil disobedience. (Also, your spelling.)

Unconscious bias, like my own brush with racial disharmony on the playground almost two years ago. Think you are immune? Check out Harvard’s Project Implicit to understand your implicit associations about race, gender and sexual orientation. I did, and it freaked me out. No one is immune. No one.

As for the Rioting, I Get It

Have you ever gotten so mad you’ve thrown something? Or broken something? Or slammed the door so hard the house shook? I know I have, more than I care to admit.

So why is rioting so incomprehensible?

We know all the intellectual arguments for why rioting is often counterproductive. Rioters end up destroying property in their own communities, communities that are often already crying out for rejuvenation. Violent responses turn the mainstream against you. Violence begets violence. Et cetera.

But remember that time you threw something down in anger, and it broke? Did you have an intellectual, rational argument with yourself before you threw it down? Did you stop and consider: Gee, if I break this, I won’t have it anymore. Or if your rage was directed at a person, did you first muse: I bet if I say this, it will make the fight worse. Or did you react emotionally in the moment, even if you regretted it later?

I suppose if you have never broken anything or yelled at anyone in anger, then you can go on being your sanctimonious self. For the rest of us, let’s just take a step back. Why did you overreact? Maybe someone cut you off on the highway. Perhaps you were tired of cleaning up toddler poop, and whatever happened next was the last straw. But let’s be clear. All of that pales in comparison to centuries of systemic racism and oppression. Or being harassed by cops just because of the color of your skin. It’s not even close.

You don’t have to condone violence to have a shred of empathy for the reasons behind the rioting. Say it out loud, people: I get why you are so angry. I GET IT.

I Don’t Know What To Do

I have read a few interesting articles and opinion pieces, but nothing makes me feel more helpless than arguments I have heard before—after Ferguson, after Eric Garner, after Abner Louima, after Rodney King. So little has changed. I suspect that were I a bit older, I’d be even more cynical. This has been going on for centuries.

I only know that I must do something. My issue for the time being is the epidemic of gun violence, where there is no doubt a racial element. I only know that I must teach my son to recognize racism in himself and in society, and to react with horror, reflexively, at the violence in our world.

I only know that I must speak out, and add my voice to the chorus of those once again crying Black Lives Matter.