Systemic Racism

On listening.

There is something I have learned about myself in the last few years of understanding racists policies (Thank you Ibram X. Kendi for teaching me to use a more accurate phrasing instead of “systemic racism”) and the effects they have on our Black communities: I am a stubborn bitch who will ignore something for awhile if I don’t like the way it makes me feel.

It’s just like I didn’t use the phrase “Black Lives Matter” at first after Trayvon Martin murder was acquitted because it made me feel negative feelings about my whiteness.

But because I have learned this about myself, I also know that I need to turn towards those things and dig in and I’m doing that now more than anything. This means a lot of the things I write here or I post on social media are after a bit of time and consideration and education. I’m learning not to react instinctively because – around issues of race – my white instincts are always wrong. This is why I’ve not been here much and my posting on social media has been 90% amplifying Black voices.

I attended a rally that was at a location I knew I’d be able to spread out and I left before it got crazy so I show up and bear witness but also not get COVID19. It’s funny, there was a higher percentage of mask-wearers at the protest rally than at the grocery story.

Because I’ve been building up my list for years of Black writers and journalist and activists that I follow across various forms of social media, I’ve been exposed to a wide range of responses to a wide range of issues during the last 10 days or so. This is key, as you know, because perceiving “Black Americans” as a monolith is a mistake and even assuming all activists are the same can get you into trouble. This is best demonstrated by the release of 8 Can’t Wait which was started by some Black Activists from Campaign Zero but was received poorly in other parts of the Black Lives Matter community because they felt the campaign focused too much on small changes and not enough on the need to tear down the system to build it back up again.

Because I’ve always donated to Campaign Zero I jumped in on promoting 8 Can’t Wait and I’ll admit I was confused at the backlash. But that was because I did the thing I told you not to do in the paragraph above, I assumed all Black Lives Matter activists are the same. I don’t know why I assumed this because I sure am hell not like all White Liberals.

Anyway…so I backed up, dug in, and spent a lot of time listening. I’ll admit, the calls the “defund police” or “abolish police” were calls I ignored at first (see my reflection on ignoring the rally cry “Black Lives Matter” above) for being too extreme. But I kept listening and quickly realized what they don’t mean is deplete policing from existence forever. What they mean (for the most part) is we need to tear it down and start over because reform is not working anywhere. They’re not saying there shouldn’t be police to call if you’re being chased by a murderer in the woods, they’re saying that there are plenty of other resources we can build up to help those 9-1-1 calls that won’t need officers with guns. There’s frequent use of the metaphor: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” to compare that if our Police carry guns and are trained to use them then everything seems like a potential for violent response.

The main message is that there is more to SAFETY than POLICING and it’s too hard to reform to get change, so maybe we study Camden, NJ (Where they tore it down and started over and actually saw decrease in crime) and see if there’s any format that they used that could be relevant in other cities.

Ta-Nehisi Coates referenced this point in this interview with Ezra Klein: A lot of white people who are scared of rethinking policing would not even see a change in their day-to-day lives if the police just disappeared. Like…do they patrol your neighborhood? Do you consider calling them because of all the crime you witness? Have you been saved by them repeatedly? Most policing is not done in middle class white neighborhoods and when he pointed that out I almost felt silly. I hadn’t ever thought of it that way.

But even to act like all Police Abolitionists are the same would be a mistake. A lot of people on the ground studying this and promoting this for years have different takes and so I think my biggest takeaway is to LET THEM TALK. Before you dismiss the ideas because of the extreme phrasing, read some of the articles or listen to some of the podcasts.

Here are some of the things I’ve been ingesting this week:

Not everyone has to post their stance on how to fix policing right now. And if you do, there’s nothing keeping you from evolving that stance. Our instincts are to resist things that seem scary and things that would disrupt our perception of safety. So I think the thing to do is to listen to as many voices as we can and resist the urge to say: THIS IS HOW I FEEL right now when there’s so much out there many of us (ME AT THE TOP OF THAT LIST) need to learn. And as a white person? My job right now is to listen and then amplify Black voices.

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