It is a privilege to ignore the consequences of race in America.”
After a 22-year-old man went on a killing spree in Isla Vista, California, last May to get “retribution” for all the women he claimed denied him sex, it sparked a national conversation about misogyny and the everyday sexism women face. In that conversation—taking place, mostly through social media—two hashtags took over Twitter: #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen. The former was actually a response to the latter, which was started because some men felt attacked. And when someone feels attacked, they become defensive. While it’s understandable that men who don’t make catcalls at/rape/kill women could feel this way, the #NotAllMen argument missed the point:
The implication, which effectively shuts down the conversation, is that frustrated women are complainers or exaggerators. It’s true that a minority of men harass women. But all women have to deal with catcalling, sexual harassment in the workplace, rape jokes, or the fear that turning down a man’s request for a date might leave her bruised, bloody, or even dead….It doesn’t matter if the perpetrators are outliers; the point is that the victims are the opposite—everywoman.
-The Washington Post
For other men, #YesAllWomen was a wake-up call. These million+ tweets showed them what it was like to be a woman in America. They showed men that, while the battle against sexism has come a long way, it is far from over. That not seeing something first-hand does not mean it didn’t happen. #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen showed that privilege exists.
Ferguson should be a wake-up call too.
Now, I don’t know what happened on August 9, except that an unarmed teenager was shot six times by a cop after being stopped for jaywalking. I don’t know which version of events is most accurate.
But I do know that Ferguson did not happen in a vacuum.
I know that Blacks were disproportionately stopped, searched, and arrested by Ferguson police in 2013. I know that, of the 685,724 “Stop and Frisks” by the NYPD in 2011, 53% were Black, 34% were Latino, and 9% were White, despite the fact that Whites make up 44% of the population in NYC. (Blacks and Latinos make up 26% and 29%, respectively.)
I know peaceful protestors—who made up a vast majority of the those in the streets—were met by officers in woodland camo, a sniper on a small tank, and tear gas in their own yards. I know a cop seems to have lied about why the canisters were launched on private property. I know this same cop threatened to punch the Attorney General and referred to attempts to ease tension as the “Hug a Thug” program on Twitter.
I know journalists have been arrested for doing their jobs. I know the 1st Amendment doesn’t seem to be terribly important to this cop.
I know this bigotry-filled “lecture” was given by a Ferguson officer back in April—and no one at the St. Louis County Police Department seemed to care until national press started asking about it. This was the same officer who pushed Don Lemon away from the camera during a live broadcast.
I know the narrative of the dead unarmed Black man is far from new. And I know this narrative is happening while predominantly White “activists” stroll around stores with semi-automatic rifles. I know White people were free to have a sniper pointing at federal agents at the Clive Bundy ranch standoff.
I know this happened.
I know that questioning—or even mouthing off to—a cop is not grounds for being “shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground.”
I know when those tasked with keeping the peace at a protest show up looking ready for war, with guns aimed in the faces of the citizens they’re supposed to protect, it only escalates a tense situation further—especially when that situation came about because those citizens didn’t feel they could trust the police.
From a military combat veteran (emphasis mine):
I couldn’t get past the fact that the police in Ferguson were wearing better battle-rattle and carrying more tricked-out weapons than my infantry platoon used in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan. Looking at the lines of cops facing off against angry protesters, I was alarmed at their war-like paramilitary posturing….
A bunch of other combat veterans I stay in touch with online agreed. Indeed, besides black Americans, to whom these kind of disturbing images are hardly new, these veterans seemed the most irate, but also the most attuned to the danger posed by the cognitive dissonance of peace officers dressed for war …
'We’d both been well-trained that when you aimed your rifle at a person, that meant you were prepared to kill them…If someone tells me what to do without telling me the reason, I’m liable to be resistant too. So, when I’m dealing with people I try to let them understand why, show them some compassion. If you don’t treat people like savages, you can get people to do anything’.”
I also know that while prejudice and discrimination are real, reverse-racism is not.
Really, it’s not, folks.
I know “Black on Black” crime is not actually a discussion that allows for any progress anywhere. In fact, it seems more a tool for those uncomfortable admitting racism exists to deflect any responsibility off of those who benefit from it. (And race is rarely brought up as something other than coincidence when there’s a pattern of Whites being violent.) Plus, this is what you sound like when you make that argument.
I know some seem to think that the conversation around Ferguson is about being anti-cop. Or anti-white. It’s not. Just like feminism is not about being anti-men.
It’s about being pro-justice. Pro-equality.
I know it’s unfair to tell people to just allow due process to run its course when they’ve been given so many reasons to not trust that due process will actually happen. This is why the reaction to Ferguson is different than some crime other places in America. A protest is an attempt to give power to the powerless. A voice to the voiceless.
I know pointing out to a person whose home keeps being set on fire by people wearing green hats that “not everyone in a green hat sets houses on fire” does not change the fact that his home is burning. I know that walking past that burning home and making no effort to stop the fire doesn’t make me an arsonist, but it also does nothing to stop arson. I know that just because my house isn’t set on fire every day, does not mean others’ aren’t either. I know denying that the house is even on fire to begin with only leads to the flames spreading. I know the destruction will not stop until we get matches out of the hands of those who seek to do damage with them.
I know accepting the fact that you benefit from an unfair system that you’ve had no part in actually creating is hard. I know because I am one of those beneficiaries. And I know that simply falling into a specific demographic does not mean you live a charmed life. It does not mean those in other demographics can’t achieve success.
But it does mean the path ahead of you will be filled with fewer hurdles and more open doors than someone who doesn’t fit into the privileged set.
And I know until we acknowledge that privilege exists—White privilege exists—we won’t make any progress as a country. Because without acknowledging this, we’ll keep victim-blaming. We’ll keep dismissing the experiences of Black Americans, simply because those experiences are different than ours. We’ll keep seeing Black victims being portrayed in harsher light than White killers. I know that even if a video showing Michael Brown charging Darren Wilson came out tomorrow, it would not erase everything we’ve seen these past two weeks. It would not change the numbers and words that are brought up above. It would not disprove the existence of racism.
The point of writing this is not to discuss whether this cop was justified in shooting this teenager—we can’t possibly answer this question here and it gets us nowhere to try. The point of writing this is to highlight how kicking into defensive mode makes it impossible for an important conversation to be had. How #NotAllWhites—just like #NotAllMen—serves only to dismiss real issues of a historically marginalized group.
We need to wake up. We need to stop looking at Ferguson as though it’s an isolated event. We need to stop looking at it through the lens of privilege and actually listen when a group of Americans tell us that it’s not an isolated incident. That this is part of their everyday lives.
And by listening, really listening, we’re opening ourselves up to the possibility that we’re actually quite unaware of the systematized oppression that plagues our country. We realize that the 60s may be over, but the Civil Rights movement is not. It can’t be. I know that because we’re having this conversation.
Finally, I know that it’s not “liberty and justice for some”. Or “liberty and justice for pale people.”Or “those who act ‘right’.”
“Those who dress ‘right’.”
“Those who love ‘right’.”
It’s “liberty and justice for ALL.” And we’re just not there yet.