After the murder of Michael Brown and the macing of an innocent black man in Westlake Center I found myself in a panel of brown people, talking to an auditorium of white people, about violence against black Americans. We talked about the acts themselves – their brutality. We watched video of a man being maced for simply being black in public. We saw his cries for water to help his burning eyes.
But what I saw, and what the other panel members saw, was the look of recognition in his eyes. The resignation and sadness for what was going to happen to him. And when I looked at the eyes of my fellow panel members – they had the same look.
Then I noticed the gasps and cries of the white audience matched the gasps and cries of the white people at Westlake Center. Their shock. Their horror. This was too far. This was too much.
“How could this happen?”
“We’re here to stop the violence.”
When one panelist tried to talk about systemic abuse and racism he was interrupted by a white audience member who said that this wasn’t what she came to hear. She came to find out what she could do to stop racists from attacking black people.
And as much as I’d like to be hopeful, the reaction of the audience cemented to me that we weren’t doing anything that evening to prevent the deaths of black men and women.
They shouldn’t have been shocked. This isn’t even the real violence. This isn’t what kills you.
If all we had to worry about was a cop with a gun or a can of mace, we wouldn’t need marches. We wouldn’t need to watch videos and shake our heads in sadness at these racists that make things hard for everyone.
So here’s what’s killing me. What’s killing us.
With both of my pregnancies, my white friends would joke “what are you going to name your child? Some weird black name like ‘D’jayson’ or something?” variations of this joke abounded. But when having a “black” sounding name means you are 50% less likely to be called in for a job interview, those jokes are violent. There are no allies rallying against that.
When school funding is based on property taxes it means that children of poor families (and therefore more likely children of color) receive a substandard of education while children of rich families receive a superior education. It locks children into a cycle of poverty. This is violent. There are no allies rallying against that.
When it is suggested that I straighten my hair for job interviews, I am being told that my nature is not approved. I can only move forward in the business world and provide a better life for my children if I deny who I am and take on a whiter persona. This is violent. There are no allies rallying against that.
When white feminists decry the misogyny in rap lyrics and ignore its mimicry of white patriarchy, its history based in slavery and the purposeful destruction of the African American family and the commodification of black women – that is violent. There are no allies rallying against that.
When a show like Game of Thrones can imagine entire worlds with monsters and magical beings, and yet can’t imagine black people who aren’t slaves, that is violent. It is a reminder that even in worlds with no limits, there is no place for us that we aren’t less than. There are no allies rallying against that.
When a person of color speaks up against racism and is told that “it’s not that bad” or “it’s not real racism” that is a denial of our experience as humans. It is a silencing of our voice. It is a reassurance that the issue will never be addressed. It is violent. There are no allies rallying against that.
When we are told we have to “be nicer” when discussing race and privilege we are being told that our basic rights and humanity come with preconditions. We have to earn it. That is violence. There are no allies rallying against that.
When people make fun of AAVE and laugh at words like “axe” used for “ask” they are reiterating that our dialect is inferior to theirs. The language they modified to suit their needs is superior to the language we modified to suit ours. We are viewed as stupid, uneducated, “classless” because of this. It affects our job prospects, our quality of education, our quality of medical care. It is violent. There are no allies rallying against that.
When people blame inner-city violence on single mothers they are denying the effects of the systemic ghettoization of black people, high unemployment, substandard schools, and the prison industrial complex. This ensures that none of these things change and that women of color do not receive true help for their families. This is violence. There are no allies rallying against that.
This is what’s killing us. This and so much more like it. We aren’t being picked off one by one at random police stops. We are being suffocated by these small, silent attacks. This society – the “good” people are the ones hurting us. And stopping this, addressing this, is much harder than sitting in a room and saying “look at the bad racist” it means looking into yourself and accepting that you have hurt us. And that you will have to change your everyday actions in order to stop.