To begin, bringing forth my ideas on the innumerable events that have transpired over the last four weeks is a complicated endeavor. News headlines, Twitter wars, and Facebook fights have been wrought with a penetrating, heart-wrenching pain that I, along with many others feel. As I watch people tear each other apart on social media, read the hurtful words of those I once considered close friends, or hear the perpetuation of ignorance and racial subjugation come from the mouths of many I am left dumb-founded, in a stupor of disbelief. I think of the times I sat in history classes growing up, the few times we covered the Civil War and the institution of slavery; it was always taught matter of fact, and why wouldn’t it be, I always thought? Who could look back and truly agree that slavery was in fact a necessary or beneficial concept? Who could truly think that men and women that shared in a skin of darker hue inexorably deserved not only unequal treatment but a complete de-humanization – emblematic in societal life at all levels? Yet here we stand.
Now that is not to say that I am accusing anyone of condoning slavery, or even directly calling someone a racist (although those individuals do exist and continue to have a hand in the direction of this nation – I’m looking at you, Jim Wheeler of Nevada who said ‘I would’ regarding the reinstating of slavery). However, I do feel that recent events have shown that there continues to be a devalued perception of the lives of people of color. Now let me stop here and break this down: black lives matter – that saying which has become the mantra of the over-boiled pot of racial oppression and inequality does not mean to disagree with the notion that all lives matter. On the other hand, it serves to point to the feeling that black lives have for years not been equally factored into all lives.
Furthermore, as someone of both Haitian and Puerto Rican decent I’d like to make something quite clear: the racial toxicity that has pervaded this globe’s history has been based off of the devaluing of an individual based primarily on the color of their skin. Such a process, the judgment of one as an inferior because of their greater level of melatonin took takes seconds. So Latinos, you shouldn’t be waiting around for the #latinolivesmatter to start trending, because for me at least, the point is that to so many the distinction of whether one is African-American, Dominican, Nigerian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Haitian is of little significance because to some it is all the same. Many of us are familiar with the quote of Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did
not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and
I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not
speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no
one left to speak for me.
This fight is not only a fight for Blacks about Blacks, it’s a fight for the worth and self-determination of minorities of color.
And to those that do not identify as individuals of color, that fact does not dismiss you from the conversation or the consequential need for action. I am admittedly an idealist, a believer in ideas of social contract theory and the principle of the common good. However so it was written in 1787, the spirit of the collective was and continues to survive through the ‘we’ of the ‘We the people’. Admittedly at the time of the first Constitutional Convention, those writers were not considering the Blacks or the Latinos or even the Native Americans – the disenfranchised have continuously populated a shadowed mirror of the American history written about in textbooks. Yet if we allow history to serve as a reminding conscious, a jostling conviction, the lack of incorporation of the 18th century can be a testament to the need for it in the 21st century. What plagues one, plagues us all. Such a reality has been made abundantly evident in the last month.
The protests that enlivened our streets, our colleges, our hearts are not anti-white or anti-police though it is undeniable that individuals who have not completely grasped that have acted in ways that suggest otherwise. My heart breaks for officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos just as it did for Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. To put it plainly, my heart breaks for any life that is taken needlessly at the hands of vile thoughtlessness and injustice. Like many in this discussion, I too have a family member that dons the police uniform, I too share in the concern and sometimes outright fear that one day on the force could potentially be his last. Yet, the training and the pledge that they make when they step into a role, that of protect and serve, is a conscious decision that comes with the understanding that their uniform resembles a risk.
Yet this discussion is not about police brutality. Yes, it is a part of it but to say that these protests and this movement is about police brutality effectively sweeps under the rug the issues of race which bleeds into every aspect of our society, as its realities are ensconced in the more concealing threads of every day life. Whether we are to discuss Iggy Azalea and her jarring tweets surrounding the nature and history of hip hop, the problematic dimensions of Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating within the medium of television, or the cultural ambiguity of President Barack Obama and his wariness in addressing racial issues in the political sphere – if you look closely these problems are everywhere. The matter of race is a metaphorical Hydra: try and cut off one head and two more appear in its place as the depth to which these issues reach does not fail to shock or dishearten so many of the world population.
So, when facing a Goliath all one can do to begin is show up to the fight with the hope that others join and that all believe that this fight is theirs as well. I write this primarily for my own catharsis – I’ve frequently been told by those near me that the change I’ve felt in the advent of these circumstances is outwardly noticeable. I’ve said on numerous occasions, I had no idea you could feel a national phenomenon so personally, so inwardly. Yet lately on most days now when I wake up, I think of the teacher that told me I wouldn’t amount to anything because I’d be pregnant by the time I was 15, I think of the times I was looked at with eyes wondering why I was present when I was the only person of color, I think of hurtful questions and the destructive assumption – and I know I am not alone in this. This is why when we protest we obstruct streets, this is why when we speak our words are lately accompanied with tears, this is why our attempts to have conversations are filtered through our fits of passion. There is a weight in each opportunity we have to express ourselves, to perfectly embody the generations of racial subjugates in a way that will be accepted by those unsure or blatantly opposed to our cause. As I watch people hide behind the status quo, fearful of change, believing that no problem exists I question why that is the case. And in ways, I’m envious – envious of the ability and the privilege to be aloof and/or remain oblivious.
I want to know, what will make individuals that do not believe there exist incredible issues in the fabric of our society as a result of racial injustices believe otherwise?