Update: Since writing this, I have moved firmly and comfortably into the “Black Lives Matter” camp and understand why we I need to be there. I still have questions – many of which are outlined in this post, and some of which are not. A lot of what is written here still resonates, while other parts seem to come from a distant part of myself I almost don’t remember. Despite my evolution in thinking and believing, I leave this post up in its original form as evidence of my journey and because I know others are still there, questioning.
First, this is in no way a presentation of answers, but rather a brief outline of what I understand and what I don’t, with a few hypotheses thrown in for good measure. Some of this is specific, while some is quite broad, which seems representative of the issue itself. I’m genuinely confused as to which factors are most heavily behind what is happening in the U.S. these days, and despite my fear of being deemed racist, ignorant, or insensitive, I thought I’d outline them.
Second, it seems to me that the more sides of a topic we can view, the better we will understand it – that is, if we can respect ourselves and each other enough to allow questions, confusion, and differences in thought and opinion. I take it a sign of wisdom rather than idiocy to be able to hold two opposing viewpoints in one’s mind and be able to understand and subscribe to some parts of each. Besides, most “sides” of this discussion hold a piece of the truth, and it’s unlikely that everything you or I or anyone else thinks and believes holds the entire story.
Third, apart from the few years I spent as a raging evangelical Christian, I in no way feel it my responsibility or duty to change anyone’s mind, opinion or belief. I assume people are doing just fine with the answers they’ve come to, and so in the same way that there are no answers here, there is no proselytizing.
Finally, like most of you, I don’t hold an opinion about something (at least any strong enough to write about publicly) that I haven’t spent a decent amount of time and energy thoughtfully considering. Sometimes however, the issues are so complex that even with ample reading, thinking and listening, the “answers” remain elusive. This topic is exactly that for me. And with that, here we go… gulp.
What I understand and/or believe.
- Systemic racism is very real and very destructive – not only for the individual lives weakened and inhibited by it, but for families, schools, communities, and society.
- Explicit racism at the level of the individual, though generally rare, is very real.
- Implicit racism at the level of the individual is very real and pervasive. Most of us, no matter how non-racist and nonjudgmental we think we are and genuinely try to be, (I’m lumping myself into this arena) have some amount of implicit racism. If you don’t believe me, please test yourself with this widely researched assessment of implicit bias: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html (Click “I wish to proceed” after having read the preliminary information then click the Race IAT – and any other you’d like.)
- In some instances, the advent of video seems to have added more confusion, rather than less. When you can see most of the actions of each individual, it inherently means that you cannot see every action. Having hours to examine a situation that in real time allowed for only split second decision making isn’t adequate to reality.
- We are all human. There is good and bad judgment in all of us. We are too quick to judge and we forget that every single case is unique.
- Police need more training in non-lethal alternatives and in CPI.
- The media focuses on what creates more viewership and profit.
- Each year, despite the higher total number of whites killed by police, when adjusting for population, (proportionately) blacks are killed by police at more than twice the rate of whites.
- Each year, minorities (blacks, Native Americans and Hispanics) are killed by police at higher rates than whites. (Again, proportionately.)
- In the 75 largest counties in the United States, 62% of robberies, 57% of murders, and 45% of assaults were committed by black people, despite the fact that this population comprises only 15% of the total populations (of the same counties).
- Black on black crime outnumbers white on black crime.
- Blacks commit the most crimes on blacks. Whites commit the most crimes on whites and Hispanics commit the most crimes on Hispanics.
- 40% of all individuals who have killed a police officer in the United States are black.
- Black and Hispanic police officers are more than 3 times as likely to fire a gun at a black individual than is a white police officer.
- Graduation rates in the 50 largest cities in the U.S. – cities where larger proportions of black and Latino students exist – average 53%.
- The poverty rate for blacks and Hispanics is more than double that of non-Hispanic whites.
- Whites are underrepresented in prisons. Minorities are overrepresented.
- Incarcerated individuals have a median annual income of $19,185 prior to their incarceration, which is 41% less than non-incarcerated people of similar ages. Meaning, our jails are filled with the poor. More specifically, our jails are filled with poor minorities.
Those are the specifics. Then I pan out and my hunch is that all of this might be more about class, power, and distraction than it is about race.
Things I don’t understand and/or question:
- Why saying “All Lives Matter” is racist. I don’t get this. I’ve read all the “saying all lives matter is like saying…” posts and I still don’t get it. It’s not that I don’t understand the explanations, I’m just not certain I agree. In my opinion, our ultimate goal should be something like: Every individual is afforded the same opportunities, rights, and protection under the law and will be allowed his or her individuality, in whatever and in every capacity he or she wishes (without infringing on the rights of others) without being subject to systemic and or individual discrimination or prejudice. Maybe this goal is too lofty to be practical at this moment, but it seems less productive to focus on the issue of race so specifically, and more effective to address larger, faulty contexts and constructs (i.e. class and power structures) simultaneously. I think some people with the propensity to claim “All Lives Matter” might be coming from this place rather than one of ignorance or racism. I know I do. Great changes need to take place but I’m not sure such a fine tuned focus (Black Lives Matter) is the most effective way to create substantive, long-term and not just reactionary change. Maybe I’m wrong.
- Finally, I question whether the general public fully understands the variety of circumstances within which an officer is legally allowed to use deadly force. There is more leeway than the general public might think, and though it might very well be the case that these policies need to be changed and are in fact an extension of systemic racism or discrimination, this may explain some of the discrepancy between the public’s expectations of justice and trial outcomes and lack of punishment.
And there they are – my confusion and sometimes-contradictory thoughts and beliefs in bullet points. If there is a culminating thought, it’s something I previously alluded to – that beyond racial disparity, the ills of our country and the reasons behind the fact that we are urged to focus on some rather than others are intricately and carefully connected. Perhaps a focus on racial disparities distracts us from uniting against the ruling corporatocracy – that system perpetuating systemic racism, tying the hands of the poor and middle class, educating some and not others, and killing democracy, the environment and millions around the world in the wars it continues to wage.
We have a race problem in the United States, undoubtedly. Part of it is our fault, part of it is the media, and part of it is something else. I tend to view it as symptomatic of something larger and believe that if we take a myopic focus on only this piece of it, the larger problem will continue unabated. Perhaps a simultaneous and multi-tiered approach is needed and perhaps it’s our responsibility to connect those dots and demand that type of change.
“How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation?” – Paulo Freire
If you’re interested in further reading on the topic, here is a link to a related piece: https://missyracho.com/2015/10/02/the-problem-is-not-gun-violence/