Today I was once again on a plane because of a despicable shooting, perpetrated by an angry man with easy access to guns. This time it’s Dallas. Just a few weeks ago it was Orlando.
Last time people were targeted because of who they love. This time people were targeted because they wore uniforms. People in uniforms who were protecting people who were peacefully protesting the fact that other people in uniforms killed two young black men who were guilty of minor offenses and legally carrying a gun.
I can’t decide whether to be heartbroken or discouraged or devastated or furious. I guess I’m all of those, and more. I want to feel those things, all of them, and I want to keep on feeling them to keep me at it, keep me alive to the fact that there is work to be done to make our world better.
The work is hard, and we need to feel in order to keep on doing it.
This week, in two very different cities, in two very different parts of the country, two young black men were killed in what should have been non-events. Instead, both those men are dead. Men who were loved, men who were sons and fathers, men who had names, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
They both had guns on them, which they were legally allowed to carry; perhaps the policemen who shot those two men to death were afraid in some way and over-reacted to the perceived threat. That’s the excuse I am hearing a lot. It’s true that police work is dangerous and hard and honorable, but that doesn’t change the fact that once again black men were killed because of overreach. Can we at least just admit that?
To all my white friends, acquaintances, and readers (I don’t have to ask those of color, because they already know), I now ask you: do you really believe that that reaction by the police, the level of perceived threat, had nothing to do with skin color? I’ll wait while you think about that.
Because that, my privileged friends, is what people were protesting – peacefully – in Dallas last night. The simple fact that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are dead due in great measure because of the color of their skin is why we really need to say, black lives matter.
Already, though, the defenses are up. I read online the vitriol that makes me ashamed for my country. But more insidious and dangerous still is the blindness of responding, “all lives matter,” or “blue lives matter.”
For fuck sake, of course all lives matter – but that’s not the point. The point is that by failing to understand that the reason we have to say “black lives matter” is because black men die at alarmingly higher rates, are incarcerated at alarmingly higher rates, are given longer jail time in alarmingly more cases, are executed in alarmingly higher numbers. Saying “all lives matter” in response is a defense against acknowledging institutional racism, just as much as blaming a woman’s choice of clothes for being hassled, harassed, or raped is a defense against acknowledging institutional sexism. I have bad news for the comfortable among us, who say “well I am not a racist,” or the men who say “well I am not a sexist,” and think that gets us off the hook: nothing will change until we change.
It is not up to those who are oppressed to free themselves. They’ve been working on that, and they’re going to keep working on it because their lives depend on it. Now it’s up to the rest of us to put a stop to the hatred that we have allowed to poison our systems, our dialogue, and our hearts and minds.
I keep saying it, and I’m going to keep saying it. We are none of us safe until we are all safe. Women will not be safe until men stop allowing sexism to happen. People who love people in ways that aren’t the same as yours won’t be safe until the “straight” world stops allowing homophobic hate. And people of color will not be safe until the rest of us stop allowing racism to happen right before our eyes.
Please understand that I am here in Dallas because five policemen were killed, and seven were wounded, and hundreds of people were terrorized. Because yet another city has had its innocence stolen, because now yet another city has to realize, it really can happen here. I am outraged by the killing of those policemen every bit as much as I am by the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
But as my beloved Maddie said earlier today,
… if I say “save our forests” I don’t therefore mean “fuck our oceans.” When I say that black lives matter I am saying that it is time (past time) to focus our energy on this inequity of justice and to be part of a solution.”
So I’m saying it too: we must stop the hate, and it’s up to each and every one of us to look deep inside for any seedlings of hate, and pull them out by the roots. Again and again and again. We can’t afford to waste yet another opportunity for change and go back to normal after a news cycle or two. Please.
Do something. Do what you can. Don’t let yourself, or your friends, or your representatives off the hook. If you see something hateful, say something powerful to stop it. Now. Every time. Do what you can. Me, I am here in Dallas because it’s part of what I can do, to help, and I work for a company who does this work. And most of all, I am here because it makes me remember to look inside and find the strength to keep pushing forward.
Dr. Les Kertay