Hi everybody. I simply had to share this poignant and beautifully written piece on this topic. Zeuslyone’s words touched me deeply:
I’ve been quite hopeful to see the Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks. I was quite interested in their efforts in 2016. It was such a turbulent year. While doggedly watching every news update and listening to many podcasts on political updates, I was also reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”, and that book made the power and turbulence of 2016 really sink in. I came to understand the wider narrative of civil rights and how it was ultimately curtailed by Nixon and others, how Black Lives Matter is just one instance of a continued fight for equality because we never really came close to realizing it in the first place, settling instead to do the bare minimum, tuck ourselves in, and go back to sleep.
As such, it’s been sad in the last 4 years to see the cycle repeat. Nixon’s 1968 campaign of “Law and Order” was taken up again by Trump, and much like before, these issues were subsequently swept under the rug. Worse: they’ve been heightened by Trump’s outright moves to play nice with white supremacists like at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Now, here we are. Something feels different this time. Now, there isn’t the false equivalencies of “good people on both sides” or “I can’t really tell the difference between different movements here — they all seem equally bad”. Public support has shifted. BLM is no longer a movement supported by the minority, rather the majority, and yet, I still see a lot of dismissive comments and outright refusals to even try to understand the details and messages.
This leaves me wondering about what I can say to impart the difficulty that blacks face in this country to those I grew up with in rural nowhere. How can I share with them in a way that gets the story across without pointing at data and analysis by experts? This is difficult. I truly come from a monolithic area, demographically. It’s very white, very dominated by a single religion, and very set with a small town mentality that does not have much experience beyond this cultural milieu. I’m certain that I never met any black people growing up, and I didn’t even, unfortunately, encounter many once I was in college.
Honestly, I’ve had the unfortunate “privilege” (saying that with the disdain of lack of experience) of being separated from my black fellow citizens for the most part, actually having spent more time with Africans visiting or studying abroad in America than with African Americans, but I have enjoyed the experiences I have had to bond and share with African Americans, when they have been in my life.
The one experience I feel like I can share where I really saw firsthand the unfairness and prejudice that blacks face from the police and society in general is the following, and I think it’s the best I can share as an anecdote from a supportive white ally.
One year, I lived in Boston to study for a PhD. That’s a longer story, but here, the focus is on the main summer job I had. I worked for a few weeks going door to door, canvassing for donations for causes such as Green Peace. This is a common summer job for young people, and there were a variety of fresh faces coming into the canvassing office from one week to the next. I wasn’t great at it — I’m more introverted than charming, but I was hardworking and articulate enough to meet the quotas of the first few days and keep the job a bit longer.
After making the first bar, they have you lead the new canvassers, or maybe they just had me do it because one of the office’s leads really liked me. In any case, I took a couple new recruits out to a suburb of Boston, West Roxbury, on a hot summer evening. One of the recruits was a young black guy who was eager to do well. He was energetic and affable, although he struggled a bit with the long script we had to memorize and recite as we went door to door — most everyone did (I honestly wonder about the strategy of this approach from a perspective of one who has studied psychology and pedagogy).
After I followed him and helped him with a few houses, I went one direction down a block, and he went the other. I told him to call me if he had any issues. Roughly an hour later, I got a call. He told me to come and help him, seemingly in a rush, and told me where he was — just down the block and around the corner. I got there to find the police questioning him, saying that someone had called them and issued a complaint. I assured them that we were just doing our job — going around and asking for donations. They let us go after some humming and hawing, and my young colleague was getting so nervous and upset that I could literally feel his internal squirming. I did my best to calm him and to defuse the situation by positioning myself as his team lead, taking the brunt of the police’s questioning. We continued the rest of the evening rounds together, although there was only about 40 minutes left at this point. He was clearly shaken and kept expressing how upset he was. I told him just to stay with me.
A couple houses later, I rang the bell, and a 40ish white guy came to the door after his kid called out to him upon seeing us. He got right in my face and screamed at me about how rude it was to ring his doorbell at this time of night (it was like 8PM). It took everything I had to react calmly as he clearly was trying to instigate me and my colleague into starting a fight. His hot breath and stray spittle hit my face as he cried out when I reassured him this was just my job and that I would leave. Now, I’m sure you might say that this had nothing to do with my black colleague, and maybe you’d be right, but given the extreme reaction and the way the rest of the evening had gone, I would disagree.
We walked away, and the cops continued to follow us through the rest of the evening. We saw them drive by a few more times, but we weren’t stopped again. We went back to the meetup point at the end of the night, and I felt so upset and shaken on so many levels. I felt terrible to have been the one to lead this poor young man into a hellish neighborhood that didn’t respect his humanity. I felt terrible for it being clear that this guy wouldn’t show up again for this canvassing job and would have to go on the search for another, all due to a hateful neighborhood who stared at us out of their curtained windows in prejudice as we walked through it. I flashed back on a conversation I had roughly a year prior with a young black woman at a party in Seattle who had reacted to my news of moving to Boston that it was a really segregated and uncomfortable city. I hadn’t really fully understood it till that night, as it seems like a liberal haven, one of those “coastal elite” cities that conservatives rail about and oversimplify (there is a lot about Boston’s culture that is not elite in the slightest). Rest assured – racism is here, even in “blue” states. The only good thing I held onto after that night was the certainty that my presence and calm had probably kept that young man from a petty arrest or more hassling from those cops — FOR COMMITTING NO CRIME. He had done nothing but go door to door for donations, his job.
If you can’t do your job, a basic, common one, in this country without potential harm or arrest all due to the color of your skin, then there are deep problems, and we are anything but post-racial. Black Lives Matter, and that extends to many issues we have yet to tackle or even to discuss because this story certainly has to do with much longer issues of redlining, segregated neighborhoods, and a variety of social stereotypes both national and local. The problems are much bigger than just police brutality, and you owe it to yourself to learn more about the history behind this moment. Just like I said at the beginning — this time has echoes of 2016, which echoed 1968, which echoed… It keeps going.
Thank you for taking the time to read my simple little story, and I hope that it changes a few minds about how endemic these problems really are.