Jes suis Clementa… I could never utter that phrase with even the minimalist sincerity. I will never know what it is like to be black or brown in America. I can only listen, and learn, and amplify voices other than my own.
But what do I know? I know after the terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo the world was awake. Folks engaged social media. They rallied. They marched. We cared. After the terrorist attack at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal black folks (and a tiny amount of allies) engaged social media to tell the truth national news media would not. They grieved. They prayed. We let them down.
Moreover, we actively pushed them down. As Deray says: watch whiteness work.
White people who commit these acts of terrorism, these hate-crimes — especially when they are against people of color or people who are not Christian — are named lone-wolfs, mentally ill, etc. The media narrative is anything that makes it look like an isolated incident. The next thing you know, we’re learning all about their childhood, their crying parents are on primetime, and anchors and correspondents rush to assure us they’re good people that just snapped. When it’s a Muslim assailant or a person of color it’s never framed that way. It’s a all Muslims are terrorists, or all black and brown people are thugs and violent criminals. And there is no au gratis humanizing of the suspect… merely a unanimous cry for vengeance and retribution, if they’re even taken alive by law enforcement.
When the Fourth Estate was done failing miserably at Humanity 101 it was the the politicians turn. Gov. Haley of South Carolina spent the day defending the continued use of the Confederate flag. Would-be (Republican) Presidents of the United States took turns saying we couldn’t possibly know what the terrorist’s motives were. They told us that if someone in that bible study had a gun they may have lived. They told us it wasn’t racism, but part of the so-called War on Christianity.
Meanwhile, today in South Carolina the American and State flag flew at half staff… and nearby the Confederate flag billowed in the wind… not even one fraction of an inch below the top of the flag pole.
Here is what not one of those would-be Republican nominees would ever say:
All white people benefit from the privilege of their (my) whiteness. We benefit from the systemic oppression of the Other — be it folks who are people of color, immigrants, LGBT folk, women, the poor, etc., and et al. We personally did not create that oppression… but our country privileges whiteness, it privileges being heterosexual, it privileges being Christian, and so forth.
This fact can be uncomfortable to come to terms with. It may make you angry or confused or feel like you’re being attacked unfairly or mischaracterized, but it is a fact of living in this country. We are not all equal; not under the law nor in fact. I know that I can go to a store or be pretty much wherever I want whenever I want and get the benefit of the doubt that my whiteness means (to strangers, etc) I am not a threat and subsequently will not be harassed. The violent police brutality experienced by a 14 year old black girl in a bikini will never happen to me. The shattered ribs and jaw of a 12 year old black girl slammed into a cop car will never happen to me. I will never be choked to death on a street corner or shot in the back. I will never be tailed by neighborhood watch and killed for walking in my own neighborhood. If I knock on a stranger’s door at night I won’t be summarily shot in the head. I will not have vitriolic bigots show up to my place of worship with guns to intimidate me. I will never be followed around in a store or have my loan application given extra scrutiny. I do not have to worry about being fired or denied housing simply because of who I am. If I am the victim of a crime I will not suffer the indignity of a character assassination. And were I to ever be the perpetrator of some heinous act my defense would begin au gratis with the media coverage.
The oppression I experience for being a woman is not negated by my whiteness. But it would be so much worse if I were a woman of color or an LGBT woman or if I did not come from a relatively well to do family.
That being said, having gotten that off my chest, it’s time for me to return to listening, to learning, and to amplifying the voices of marginalized communities. It’s the very least I can use my privilege to do.