I spent some time with a friend about a month ago. He and I pulled up The Daily Show interview between Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren. It took some time for us to make it through the interview because we were pausing consistently. During one early pause I went on a rant about race, and digressed with this:
“…I have a real question. How do the maligned protest? When people feel as though their voices cannot be heard any other way, how should they express their displeasure to attain recognition and hopefully change? How do the ‘minority’ get the ‘majority’ to listen?”
And then Trevor Noah asked the same of Ms. Lahren. Not verbatim, but with the same spirit. The answer she gave provided no answer. Just as plainly as the first time Noah asked his question again and again no actionable response was offered. This caused me to have a renewed annoyance. Most simply and broadly, and hopefully without being reductive of the issue, when a child comes to me with a complaint I settle it. I listen to what the child has to say, try to understand how to solve the problem, but I also try to understand the standpoint and outlook of the child. If a child complains of being afraid in a dark room and points to a corner, turn the light on to see what the problem actually is. Many of us have had children in our lives, and I am certain the majority of us have responded in a similar fashion. Why then can we not treat fully grown, sentient humans with the same amount of consideration and respect? If people express fear, they are told it is nothing. When they cannot remain calm we are told their yelling and screaming affords them nothing. So we are left to stew in our own uncertainty. And this is why anger builds.
Anger is ugly, and drives people to heinous acts. A recent incident in Chicago showcased four black youths torturing a white youth. They espoused hate speech not just against white people, but against President-Elect Donald Trump. Behavior like this does no good. While the perpetrators did not tote any particular cause this will not stop some from hearkening back to this incident. The conversation of sound treatment for all is ongoing. This hate crime adds another land mine to the field of discussion. In no way am I condoning this attack. No matter the circumstances that weighed the scales, the aggressors had choice. And those choices, once made, have consequences. This is anger, poorly directed, and the harm will ripple beyond the five people at the center.
Constructively, people protest because they find something to be wrong in their lives. When left with no better options, they band together with others who feel the same. This anger can be channeled to bring light to a given issue. But care must be taken lest the people taking a stand, not just movements but the ideas they represent are invalidated.
A group that is a fulcrum of discussion is the Black Lives Matter Movement. BLM, as is oft used, swelling in the public light as an organization that speaks out against police brutality, namely in the lives of people of color. Their efforts have covered a lot of ground and varied in execution. From marches, to protests regarding trials of law enforcement, even to larger demonstrations that disrupted traffic in some cases. One problem is that there does not seem to be a nucleus, so anyone can take up the banner. This has led to some events being well received, and others being denounced in the wider public eye.
It is hard work to be angry and scared, to feel cornered and ignored, and to respond with calm. It is all the more harmful then when protests remain peaceful, but you are merely stepped on or over if you are bothered being recognized at all.
In an example of recent civil disobedience, Colin Kaepernick has earned recognition. A football player for the San Francisco 49ers he remained seated during the playing of the National Anthem. When asked later why he did so, he said the following:
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
The main complaint I have heard is that this disrespects what some people hold dear as symbols of this country. Law enforcement domestically and soldiers in foreign theaters have both served the country in some way. I have seen some among my friends support Kaepernick not only in deed, but in spirit. Others, also among my friends, find his and all other such protests as the height of disrespect. The conversation centered on the act itself. Not the words, not the cause of the protests, but the actions.
“BLM is too loud, angry, and disruptive.”
There are persistent and entrenched socioeconmic inequalities that heightens the likelihood for such anger. These people feel stuck, and unheard. All that can be done is to raise their voices. But this vocal outcry is too much.
“Kaepernick should stick to sports. If you want to protest, do it on your own time.”
The point of a protest is to get people to notice a problem. To get them talking. He managed to facilitate discussion. As I said, the point was missed. Many were annoyed and aggitated. How dare he disrespect the country and the flag. But a grouping and a symbol of it are more worthy of discussion than ensuring no more people die.
I meant to type this all quickly, but I have taken my time to craft it better. I hope in reading it, you understand the view of one person. I am not yelling or impeding your daily routine. Outside of asking you to read my words, however impassioned, I come as constructively as I can.
I am angry. I have lived my entire life held under suspicion. One of my earliest memories was an elderly woman shrinking away from me when I entered an elevator. I was four. Watching people cross the street to avoid walking near me, placing themselves aggressively between me and their children. Being someone who has focused much on peace, meditation, and understanding but so often considered a threat. I can excuse single instances, but an entire lifetime causes me pause. “Why am I a threat?”
I am scared. I have now-funny anecdotes that were originally terrifying. I have been stopped by police while walking, told I “matched a description”, and watched how they jumped when I reached for my wallet. I have been stopped in my car, and had two additional squad cars called as back up. Yes, I had wooden weapons and a week worth of stuff in the back seat. But the inability to communicate that an item of confusion was a yoga mat could have quickly gone south. I don’t walk anywhere anymore, where I was once famed for it. There are places I don’t drive, because every time I happen to I am “out of place”. I am afraid of being stopped. Of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am afraid that the attending officer will misjudge me, or the situation, and I will wind up dead. For all my skills, ability, and confidence, I am afraid of my story ending if I am not behind closed doors.
I am tired. An entire lifetime of being unable to relax has worn on me. I have had to battle to be comfortable with the way that I talk, dress, what I project. I have had to individually tackle every aspects of my projected persona just to walk in the world. I have even had to use my knowledge in singing to scale my voice up because my natural voice scared customers.
I want to scream. I want to live without worry. Without the children that grow up after me to wonder if they really are a beast or demon. I don’t want them to figure “Well… If the entire world is going to be afraid of me anyhow, I may as well use that.” I don’t want them corrupted by this world as I have been.
My life is good. I have a roof over my head, food in my stomach, internet and a computer to access it with, and the education to write and make these posts. I have no mental oddities or physical dependencies. I operate fine with ample food and sleep. Even with life being good, even being in America, there are nigh invisible hazards. Or, at least, they aren’t spoken of. I have lived a life full of small hazards and have been worn down. If you think sand does not matter in aggregate, look up what it can do in a desert.
Just because my life is “good”, does not mean that I am obligated to ignore all the bad around me. Just because things “could be worse” or ARE worse elsewhere, doesn’t mean I have to accept backsliding here.
America is my country too. I was born and raised here. My ancestors were dragged here from parts unknown. Quite literally, this is the only world me and mine know. Our history is expunged.
This is my country. And in 2017 I do not feel safe. I see other people who do not feel safe either.
And that is a problem.
I return to the question: When and how do we protest so that change occurs, so no one dies?
The answer to when is Now. The answer to how is Constantly.
I would call my education of World History “very Euro-centric.” But even in that, there are are truths that have to be accepted. Only in recognition the path we’ve walked can we avoid treading it again.
The world was full of, and still has, partriarchal societies. As it pertains to the one-day United States laws were made with land owning men being the creators and benefactors of the laws. This did not extend to non-European people, and rarely to never women. The Indiginous Peoples of this continent were shoved aside as more Europeans immigrated to the Americas. As industry grew a booming and equally dehumanizing slave trade began. In the 3/5 Compromise Southern states were allowed to count slaves among their population. This allowed them voting clout and resources without giving rights to those they benefitted from. Even if they escaped from the South, head hunters could venture North to retrieve them legally. Worse, there are instances in which someone who was born free was taken into slavery. (Perhaps because they “matched a description”?) It took a Civil War to begin forcing change. Westward expansion forced the Indigineous Peoples that remained onto reservations. New immigrants came along, and it was always a struggle to integrate them. The Irish first come to mind, but there were many others. Fast forward a bit, and we have the Women’s Sufferage Movement. A bit more, and we see an end to Jim Crow Laws and the Civil Rights Movement for People of Color.
And none of that is secret history. It is all a part of standard curriculum.
But is it all history?
What is right and wrong is often subjective. The Messiah of one is the Heretic of another. With this being so confusing, rules imposed by the masses can shape the framework of some. The laws that made Segregation in all of its forms legal have been gone for only about half a century. This means that the framework of some people were molded by the laws. Some, those who were limited, are happy to be free to do as they wish with without worry. Some, who were unphased, may not understand why things needed to change. In both cases these people usually have resources, clout, and are respected in their communities. Segregation has yet to meet its Second Death, when all those who grew with and supported Segregation are no more. Even without the laws, communities of color do not feel safe. When black people wind up dead in non-violent encounters with police, but those who attack historic churches survive to trial it does nothing to settle our fears. I do not have every iota of information on every instance, and will admit I do not know everything. But feelings are powerful, and there is not enough cold, logical information to temper emotion.
We have issues of immigration presently. Distrust of refugees of war. People fleeing because war has destroyed their homes and all they know. We do not look at the past and help expedite integration, help people get on their feet or perhaps eliminate war in their homes. Rather, we seem content to leave them in Limbo.
I feel that we again face a Civil Rights Movement, but this time for the LGBTQ+ community. Forgive, as I do not know the proper and present acronym. Ever since I was young I have noticed the parallels between People of Color and the LGBTQ community. Pastors at pulpits using the Bible to denounce what they did not agree with, rather than just treating their fellow humans with respect and heartfelt kindness. Letting their God speak through their actions. Trying to figure out issues with bathrooms. Many little similarities that are lost in my memory.
This is our past, and our present. These things exist now. If they continue into tomorrow relies wholly on us.
It is a shame, but looking back it seems as though humans as a whole, but Americans more directly, have not learned from history. Proof in that we repeat it. There are no silver bullets or magic pills. I know that making things right takes work, and a lot of it. But I do not think it is as difficult as we tend to make it out to be. There is so much in the world that separates us. But we are all people. We need clean air, healthy food, and have similar likes on the whole. I would love to see a world in which we bicker about this celebrity or ponder if a dress is blue or white because that is the most stressful issue in our world.
I hate saying it, but the real solution to all these ills will probably not happen in my lifetime. People all over have issues that matter to them. But before everything else, can we agree that people dying, being without homes, being without food, and many other such issues are bad and solve those? We have thousands of years of recorded history. We have a greater breadth of technology and capability, but still people suffer. Shared suffering often brings humans together. Together, in that suffering, let’s move past it and create a net so that no one falls again.
That is a thought I will keep in mind at every moment.
“An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.