Yesterday evening, checking Facebook one last time before bed, I found myself tagged in the comments on a long post from one of my beautiful black friends, the lovely and talented Kasi Jones. Not sure what to expect, I opened up the notification and what I saw made several emotions rise up in me.
You see, my friend? She was calling us out. And by “US,” I mean the estimated 62.6% of us in this country who can identify as non-Hispanic or Latino white folks (77.7% with some Hispanic and/or Latino descent). She was wondering (paraphrase):
Where are all the white people talking about what’s happening to this country’s innocent young black men (and women)? Do you even care? Do you even know?
In the comments, a lovely Indian friend, Surekha Sydney, had posted my name, saying that I was the only white person she had seen posting about the recent tragedy and MURDER of Michael Brown.
My first reaction to this post was to feel a little indignant before I realized I’d been tagged in the comments, and not to the actual post. Of course I care about this issue, this widespread, national disease of hatred, mistrust and racism being inflicted upon OUR CHILDREN in this country! I felt a little bit like I was the representative of white people in general for a few moments, and felt a little scorned. Then I realized I’d been tagged in the comments by someone who I love and respect who also happens to have beautiful brown skin, and tagged as someone white who cared. And I felt… proud. Maybe even a little self-righteous. (Hey, I’m only human). Then I felt a little disgusted with myself… and I started to feel pretty ashamed of my fellow light skinned compatriots.
My brain started sifting through posts I’d seen by my (predominantly) white friends list, and I realized, too, that with the exception of a few white people, most of the posts I’d seen were made by black or minority/mixed friends. On top of that, each of these posts had only a few likes or comments a piece. Why? WHY?!
Kasi had pondered aloud into the social media consciousness if perhaps it was that this was due to an “us vs. them” phenomenon. Or maybe we white people were uninformed? Or perhaps we are afraid to face this issue if it seems like it’s too big to fix? Or maybe it just seems like a “few isolated incidents” and not the crisis that it actually is. I began to ponder.
I tried to think about this from the perspective that is the only one I know: that of an upper-middleclass, white girl yuppie, nestled in the sweet, suburban, Starbucks swilling, laptop toting paradise that I call home. Here are the facts I came up with as I tried to think of how to write this blog post.
- There is ONE (that I am aware of) black family living in the new-ish 50 home development I reside in. They are an amazing family with three beautiful, nearly-grown children. All of these children are helpful, kind, talented, and hard working. I have seen one or both of their sons outside helping neighbors with their yards, or washing cars for pocket money, playing basketball with the rest of the neighborhood kids, and I know that one of them helps a neighbor on a night shift walk her big old pitbull. One of their sons has a summer job at our local grocery store, and he always gives excellent customer service and you know what? Nobody ever made me get a summer job and I should definitely have had one. (You know, for character reasons.) These are some excellent kids, and I can only hope to come anywhere near raising my son as well as this family has built into these young people. But I reiterate – they are the only black family in my neighborhood.
- I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, which for the most part, claims to be about promoting, encouraging, and celebrating diversity. In and amongst the handlebar mustaches, tattoos, lattes and iPads, we claim to be a good group of people who are open to friendships, relationships and dialogue of all kinds. Regardless of your opinion on these following matters (I shall leave mine out of it), last year we as a state decided to legalize recreational marijuana use, and gay marriage. We are a pretty tolerant bunch, or so it would seem. This leads to my third point…
- All of this makes this epidemic slaughter of our black youth seem so, so, so very far away. Americans make up one big country, but sometimes the division of our nation into 50 little chunks can make it feel like we live in 50 different countries. What with different social mores, dialects, slang, racial groups, economic status, and even the climates we live in, sometimes something happening in Ferguson, MO can seem like it’s not really happening. But…
- I have seen plenty of white people writing about the genocide happening in the Middle East due to the scourge of ISIS (which I will not be discussing here today).
- So what gives?
My personal opinion is that white people’s reticence to get in on this conversation has a lot to do with being uninformed, but I think it also has to do with something that we’re all a little bit embarrassed to admit to: white people don’t feel like we’re allowed to talk about black people. Hell, we don’t even think we’re allowed to write the words “black people.” I will admit, I sat here for like… 5 minutes, deciding if I should write black throughout this article, or “African-American.”
You know what I decided? My friends with dark skin aren’t African. They’re 100% American. Just like I’m not Irish-German-White-Mutt-Wonderbread American. I’m white. They’re black. And that’s okay. THAT’S MORE THAN OKAY (and not that I even have the right to quantify if their skin color is “okay” or not, but here I am telling you that it most certainly is!!!) – THAT’S WHO THEY ARE. And I’m allowed to talk about them, lift them up, cry with them, feel angry with them, feel dismayed with them, feel hopeless with them.
And I’m NOT GOING TO COMMIT THE SIN of saying “I don’t see” their skin color. I do. It’s black. It’s brown. It’s caramel. It’s beautiful. But the saddest thing of all that black skin is these days, is dangerous. And it’s not dangerous to those of us who view it, it’s dangerous to those who wear it.
And I’m done being afraid to talk about it.
America: White, Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific-Islander, BUT ESPECIALLY WHITE PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!! EVERYBODY… WAKE UP. Wake up, wake up, wake up.
White people – let that 62.6% really sink in. We make up over half of this country. That makes us the biggest voice. If we don’t get plugged in, and get angry, and realize that the militarized police state of this country is a dangerous, caustic environment for our citizens, then the other 37.4% of this nation’s population has to do all the yelling and screaming and it’s a big job. They need our help. We need to help them. This isn’t April 4, 1968 but it’s starting to feel like it.
Black people: I care. I will continue to post. And talk about this with my friends and neighbors. I will not keep quiet because I am the same skin color (predominantly) as the police who are hurting OUR black citizens. Who make you afraid to even say “I’m not doing anything wrong” to a police officer on the warpath.
Because make no mistake, this is a war. I’m a cisgender, Christian, fat, bipolar, yuppie mom of a high functioning autistic kiddo in the PacNW. I’m not much, but you have my attention, black people. And I promise… I care.