“Who are we supposed to believe in. I just feel alone” – Said at 11:03pm by a 50-ish year old black woman who was crying next to me on the bus while talking to some family or friend about the Eric Garner non-indictment.
It’s 11:36pm on Wed Dec 3rd 2014 and I’m finally ready to write. I’ve been delaying writing this post for sometime now, not for any other reason other than I just couldn’t fully get my thoughts straight. But, I finally feel a sense of clarity on how I want to approach this subject. So here I go.
I want, for a second, to start on the quote from above. I want to highlight the word alone. When I was 15-18 I was depressed. Like real depression – bordering on taking my own life – because I felt so alone. On the surface, I was hardly alone. I was social and surrounded by hundreds of people on a daily basis with whom I “socialized”. However, dig deeper, and that wasn’t the reality. The reality was, I was a lower middle class white kid who’s father committed suicide and step father abused his family, in a prep school that was filled with super rich white kids with seemingly nothing in common (too many white lies and white lines, super rich kids with nothin but loose ends, super rich kids with nothin but fake friends). I felt like, no matter how many polite smiles and courteous invites I got, they didn’t really need me around. It wasn’t a direct hatred or even dislike for me – on the surface I was actually quite popular – but it was more of a general lack of depth of their feeling towards me. I felt, as weak and emo as it sounds, “less than”, at all times. While the reality of the situation was probably that only a super small minority of the “super rich white kids” felt superior or indifferent towards me – my transposition of their actions onto everyone else made me feel, when combined with my own childhood events, completely alone.
This may be too big of a leap of correlation to make, but, at a very small level, I understand what the African American community is feeling today. They, as epitomized by the woman crying next to me, feel alone and hopeless. They feel, if I am reading and listening accurately, like our society simply just doesn’t value them as people. While I’m not going to say that this country or white people on a whole actually feel that way (because I don’t think that’s actually true), I can say that their feelings, based on their experiences, are not unjustified.
Oscar Grant. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. – 4 young black men dead at the hands of white police figures (Zimmerman was just neighborhood watch) in less than 5 years, and only 1 guilty verdict (Oscar Grant’s killer was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and served 2 years in prison). Without going deep into the details and facts of each case, let’s just settle on the fact that these 4 young men were killed and there wasn’t a single true murder conviction in any of the 4 trials. In fact, two of the cases did not even result in indictments. An indictment isn’t even a guilty verdict, it’s literally just a grand jury processional to even determine if there is enough evidence of a capital crime to warrant a trial. Really?
For the record, in the Mike Brown case there is not a single account of the incident that is undisputed. More than 30 witnesses testified to stories that varied from Brown pushing the officer into his car and hitting him to Mike sitting on his knees with his hands raised in the air. Regardless of the story – the only fact that is undisputed is that Brown was shot 6 times including two shots to the head. In the Eric Garner case, an illegal chokehold was used, all caught on video, to arrest and eventually kill the young Garner. Even while he was exclaiming, “I can’t breathe.” I will not, in either case, determine guilt, that’s neither my place nor do I have enough evidence. However, if you’re telling me that either case shouldn’t at least go to trial, well then I think you’re either biased, not educated on the facts, or don’t understand the meaning of “excessive force.” Again, I’m not saying that either officer was definitely guilty, but there was more than enough evidence to say that they should have gone to trial. Yet, they didn’t. While these are only a few isolated incidents – how does that make the larger African American community feel? Unwanted? Hopeless? Alone?
Whether you want to argue over the facts of each individual case, can you at least understand that feeling they are feeling? Can you at least understand why these incidents, when combined with a very real, a very terrible, and a very recent (more than we’d like to admit) history can make a community of people feel isolated an unwanted? While I’ve never thought this before today, the race relation problems in our country are extremely real.
Part of the reason I never really saw these problems before, is that I was too “in-them” to see beyond them. For as long as I can remember, the majority of my friends have come from ethnicities different from myself. I can’t tell you why, but, especially with my black friends, I felt a lot more at home – and they seemed to feel the same way about accepting me. When any one of their black friends questioned why they were kicking it with me, the resounding response was, “na, Benny’s cool.” See the problem? No?
Maybe you’re more familiar with the situation played out in reverse. You know, when a white person defends their black friend by saying, “na but HE’S cool.” Both situations are subtle racisms. Why? Because in both situations the person in question is being deemed to be “cool”, DESPITE their race. That means that the rest of race X represents something at least slightly negative but that the person in question doesn’t demonstrate that/those qualities. That is racism. Pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ll wait…
Fact of the matter is, our country, on both sides, holds onto some serious racial prejudices. Some of them are justified and others aren’t. Some of them are supreme generalizations and some are proportionally true. However, that’s not an excuse for transposing those beliefs or thoughts onto the entirety of a race. In fact, it’s not just a small problem – it’s a foundational problem that is being exacerbated with every “not-guilty” verdict and every
riot “non peaceful demonstration”. However, maybe I’m a bit to optimistic, but I don’t believe these problems are not correctable; mainly because I truly don’t believe that most people in this country are racist, rather just unaware or ignorant.
Fact. Not every cop is racist.
Fact. Not every white cop who has killed a black man is out to “kill the black man.”
Fact. Not every angry black man is an “angry black man.”
Fact. Not every black person scary or potentially dangerous.
I wrote those statements because they, along with about 50 other statements, are among the false generalizations that are being spewed about in the wake of these tragic deaths and legal cases. We’re placing the actions and behaviors of the few onto the heads of entire races and THAT is deepening the racial divide at an exponential rate. Listen to the interview by Charles Barkley or read the article by Chris Rock and they, much more eloquently than I’m doing at the moment, touch on the points I’m trying to make. With that being said, it doesn’t mean that the actions of a few aren’t massively important to discuss and review and judge. It’s just that we, as a society, need to stop placing the actions of few onto the heads of all.
Want to know something sad? Catch a white person in a truly honest moment and they’ll tell you that at some level “black people are scary.” Catch a black person in a moment of honesty and, even with a black president, they’ll tell you – “I truly don’t trust or believe in our government.” Why is this? Because some black people are criminals and scary, and because some white americans are elitist and racist. Both are shitty realities that we should be aware of, but neither of which exist at a level that should cause overarching emotions towards a race or demographic.
So what is our real biggest problem? We as a society only ever demand answers when there is a tragedy, then as soon as the spotlight is turned off, BOTH sides stop working towards a solution. So how do we fix things? How do we start to actually make a change? It’s by forcing change at a human level.
I wish we could force change and improvement at an institutional or governmental level – but it’s just too complicated legally and politically. I really wish we could change things at the educational level – but it’s just too difficult financially and politically to happen quickly. But there’s still a way.
The easiest way to disprove generalizations is to start testing the numbers. In this case, that means actually going out and getting to know people of different races, cultures and demographics. We need to start putting down our predisposed points of view and predetermined fears and start getting to know people on an individual level. Regardless of race, class or ethnicity (as corny as this may sound), we are truly not that different as people. However, until we take the time to really get to know people who are different than us – we’ll keep making these conscious and subconscious assumptions about people that perpetuate the generalizations that need to end. I know my solution seems corny and way too obvious, but it’s also the only solution I can think of that can be instituted over night – because it relies only on each individual to start making changes within themselves.
When I think back on that woman crying next to me on the bus tonight, the woman who inspired me to actually put pen to paper (fingers to keys), I think about only one thing: That look on her face as she was trying not to cry and not to be “loud and angry”. I looked up at her a couple times while she was on the phone, trying to get a clear look at her. It took me about 15 minutes, until right before I was about to get off the 3rd avenue bus, to catch eyes with her. I wanted to reach my hand out to comfort her, but for fear of invading anyone’s personal space, I held back. Instead, I just held eye contact for a few seconds, closed my eyes, tightened my lips (softly) and bowed my head; as if to say I understand how you feel, and I understand. I’m not sure if that meant anything to her, but I hope it did. I hope that, in some way, my subtle look of sadness and understanding, may have even slightly reminded her that she’s not alone. In fact, I hope that one subtle look I gave her today makes her feel even mildly positive that if some random white boy on the bus cares, that maybe more people than she realizes actually care. When I was younger, I felt alone on a bus full of people too, until I started noticing the people trying to engage me. But it takes time. It takes real effort by the people around us to take away the pain of feeling hopeless and alone – because when you feel that way you can’t see anything else. You feel choked by those feelings until, you feel out of breath.
So if you want to change, look around at the people next to you, and start by lightening their burden. Show them they matter. Show them they aren’t alone. Show them they don’t need to gasp for air anymore, show them they can breathe deep.