Admonishments For Me and My Fellow White People

Do something! © sergdibrova123RF

I’m walking in the East Village. At the corner of 12th Street and 4th Avenue, there are no fewer than 30 police officers lined up on the street and dozens of police vehicles double-parked. It makes sense tonight to see such a presence, since I’m walking just south of Union Square. Still, it’s disturbing. I guess they’re expecting more protests and now I’m starting to formulate an alternate escape route from the neighborhood after I see a cabaret show at Pangea.

Since …OrlandoMichael BrownParisParisCaliforniaBrusselsTrayvonEric GarnerPhilandro CastileIstanbulIraqDhakafive Dallas peacekeepersAlton Sterling… there’s pain, confusion, horror, fear, apathy, admonishments, threats all around me. Fear of what’s to come, fear of police, fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear of doing nothing to become part of the solution and fear that it will be my personal legacy: I did nothing. This is on my mind tonight.

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Shame on you, Rudy Giuliani.

Pain, for the families and friends of those lost in the last couple of weeks. The absolute horror of seeing Sterling executed by a policeman who fired at minimum five rounds into him as he lay, subdued, on the ground. The horror of watching Castile die on camera, as a remarkably composed Diamond Reynolds live-streamed his death on Facebook, along with her heartbreaking interaction with police. The sound of the hysterical police officer who shot him at a traffic stop — for a broken taillight — firing into a car with a child in the back seat. Hearing the officer comforted by his “brothers,” who all ignored the gravely wounded Castile, who received no help until the paramedics arrived. Clearly, Castile’s Black life didn’t matter as much as the emotional well-being of Officer Jeronimo Yanez.

Will apathy doom us all?

Denial, apathy. “Don’t watch the news,” I say to myself, as I sink deeper into a feeling of helplessness. “That’s insane,” my more practical self responds, “you have to look at the news, hiding won’t make this go away.” So I watch the news, which — except for NY1 — is always inflammatory. I’ve noticed more lately the mixture of subtle and not so subtle things that the media does to inflame people. The turn of a phrase during news teasers, the cadences of speech. This isn’t new, it just gets worse, and I guess right now it’s particularly offending me. I want to run and hide. I want to do nothing. I want to wake from the nightmare.

Confusion, threats. Why hasn’t failed Congressman Joe Walsh (or Drumpf’s former butler) been arrested, or at least hauled in to jail for questioning, for threatening the President? I’m pretty sure threatening the life of a President is a felony. Or because Walsh, a deadbeat dad, deleted his tweet and denied meaning physical harm to the President, maybe that makes it OK? The butler was particularly horrendous. Doesn’t it matter? Doesn’t Barack Obama’s Black life matter? Or is our President, as he has been described by many sources, simply out of fucks? He’d be entitled. I’ve had a fantasy for the last year and a half that POTUS and FLOTUS have a giant, old-school monthly calendar in their bedroom. Every night, together they pick up a huge dry-erase marker and cross off the days until they are no longer subjected to the most vile behavior that any President and his family has ever endured.

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I look at social media and see people feeling as helpless and confused as me. “I am so deeply saddened by the news from this week, I honestly don’t know what to post here,” writes one Facebook friend, the mother of two small children. “As a citizen, I am scared and horrified. As a mom, I am so empathetic to mothers of black kids in this country, I just want to cry. I cannot understand what is happening.” I read beauty editor Ashley Weatherford’s post in New York magazine’s The Cut. I’m humbled by her grief.

Fear: Will I get out of the Village safely tonight? Will the city blow up this summer? Will I be killed by sniper fire as I walk through the city or killed in a terrorist attack (it’s getting a little harder to determine what’s what)? Will more people, innocent or otherwise, be killed while being Black? Will I do nothing?

Riding on the bus the other day, a close friend confided to me that she’s looking into citizenship in her husband’s native country in case Drumpf is elected and things get unbearable here. Will I have to leave my country and start a new life somewhere else?

Fear of saying the wrong thing, of admonishment when I do. I recall a conversation in which I told an African-American colleague that I was worried about “saying the wrong thing.” I said I feel like nothing white people say or do is ever correct, so I’m chicken to engage in dialogue. She shook her head (like “WTF did you say?”) and said “Oh, poor you! Betsyann, you have no idea what it’s like to be disapproved of just for existing.” Then I remembered one of the lines from Jessie Williams’ BET acceptance speech:

The burden of the brutalized isn’t to comfort the bystander.

Then I read Courtney Harge’s posts on the CFR, and I want to repost them, but I’m not sure that she’ll approve of it.

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Castile’s Black life didn’t matter.

Here are some admonishments for some fellow white people. #BlackLivesMatter is the name of a chapter-based national organization working for the validity of Black life, not a slogan on a t-shirt. Not a slogan that can be co-opted by us white people because we don’t understand (or take the time to find out) what it means or what the movement stands for. It was founded by three women after the murder of Trayvon Martin, and its manifesto, if you will, specifically includes all Black people: cis women, cis men, queer and trans people, disabled, undocumented, Black people with criminal records, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It’s not an organization dedicated to portraying all police as evil murderers. Shame on you, Rudy Giuliani, you thug.

Fear of doing nothing. As Leonard Jacobs, founder of the Clyde Fitch Report, wrote recently on social media, voicing his own frustration and pain, and I paraphrase:

I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m going to do something.

I mentioned this to an experienced Parisian and his advice is to take to the streets and shut the country down, peacefully. I’d love to see that. I’d love to take part in that. I just would.