I wrote this as a response to a friend’s Facebook update, but when I was done it had turned into a fiery homily that didn’t feel appropriate there anymore, so I’m putting it here for safekeeping.
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“Statistical disparities” is a pretty cold way of saying black people are pulled over, frisked, arrest, jailed and shot at rates far exceeding what happens to whites. It brushes over other concerns like inequitable treatment that literally begins in kindergarten, where black students are much more likely than white students to be punished, suspended, or expelled for the same behaviors that are ignored in white children; and much less likely to be recognized as gifted. It glides past the facts that résumés from people with traditionally black names are less likely to result in an interview, and that black people are offered worse mortgage rates than white people even when their credit is better. “Oh, yes, of course there are some statistical disparities” is not really an adequate response to systemic racism. Honestly, I find the whole thing incredibly frustrating and I’m white. If you are honestly saying “what they are protesting isn’t clear” then I don’t know what to tell you. Tamir Rice, 12 years old, playing with a toy gun in a park, shot less than two seconds after police arrived, with no first aid administered. Freddie Gray, who committed no crime that day, put into a police van healthy and whole, found dead at the end of the ride. John Crawford, walking through Wal-Mart, talking to his girlfriend on the phone while holding a BB gun sold in that store, shot to death having committed no crime–and all this in an open carry state. Walter Scott, unarmed, shot in the back as he was running away. Philandro Castile, a licensed gun owner who, as everyone advises, calmly informed the cop who pulled him over that he had a gun in the car, and was then shot and killed anyway. The problem seems awfully clear to me—and clearly awful. How many equivalent stories are there for white people? These are people who posed no threat at all, and often had committed no crime at all. There are plenty of 12 year old white boys playing with toy guns in American parks and not one of them has been shot to death. There are plenty of white men buying BB guns in Wal-Mart for their kids, and not one of them has been killed by police. And these unjust deaths are just the most visible problem, the metaphorical tip of the iceberg, poking above the waves, announcing there is much more happening under surface.
But there’s no way to protest these injustices that the good, calm, moderate white people in the middle will listen to. Call your organization something as simple and modest as “Black Lives Matter” and you’ll get labeled a terrorist organization. March in the streets like MLK and Republicans will start crafting laws letting people run over you with impunity. Quietly, solemnly, kneel in protest while the anthem plays and the world of white moderates will act like you turned your back on the flag and spat.
I don’t care if the protests are imperfect. There’s never been a protest in American history that white moderates approved of. Trying to get white moderates to approve is a losing game. I do care that my darker-skinned brothers and sisters face prejudices I will never know, and they face them from the moment they are born.
And, of course, when someone quietly kneels before the flag, we are told they are disrespecting the troops, as though the flag belongs to the troops, as though the troops aren’t disproportionately minorities from poor backgrounds, as though calling for fair treatment is somehow an insult. But War is one of the most sacred and terrible gods in the American pantheon. Generals are his high priests; troops are his acolytes. The quickest way to shut down any movement for justice is to say that protestors are blaspheming War and disrespecting his priests. We won’t allow the oppressed to disrupt our holy days, but every day is holy because the war never ends.