So I'm finally writing again after several months of inactivity due to a variety of reasons; however, I cannot stay silent anymore and feel compelled to speak. Please note this post might be all over the place, because what is going on back home (I am currently living overseas) in the United States is causing me daily to run the emotional gamut from rage to fear to sadness to depression to optimism (since I can't fight my generally positive-realist nature), so apologies in advance for that and the run-on sentences!
As a biracial female who identifies as African-American, (because that is how I am perceived and treated by society), as the mother of two black children a boy and a girl, and as a diplomat who has to promote American ideals abroad including diversity, tolerance, social inclusion, rule-of-law, justice through due process, and violence as a last resort, among others, what is happening in the United States now has me horrified, completely scared for the future of my children, and at a loss professionally when confronted with questions about the ongoing violence, blatant targeting, shootings, and lack of justice for victims' families when the judicial system fails to indict guilty police officers for their murderous actions against the African-American community.
What prompted this post is that fact that I am tired, exhausted actually; so for my own peace of mind. So here are some points that I need set straight:
• I'm tired of explaining to "friends" that the phrase #BlackLivesMatter doesn't mean that other lives don't matter or that it is somehow an anti-white or anti-police slogan. There is an implied "too" at the end of the phrase, hence #BlackLivesMatterToo. #BlackLivesMatter is not mutually exclusive and not an either or statement; like if black lives matter, no other lives matter, but rather it acknowledges the fact that black lives aren't and haven't been given the same status/treatment as non-black lives. So to break it down one last time, #BlackLivesMatter is a movement that demands our country affirm the value of black life by addressing historical and endemic problems such as the increasing racial wealth gap, institutionalized racism, fixing failing public schools, correcting housing inequality and gentrification especially in neighborhoods where people of color have lived for generations, dismantling the prison industrial complex and school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects people of color, and yes addressing police brutality and violence which continues with impunity. None of these things have to do with hatred for police or white America. #BlackLivesMatter is about acknowledging the inequities in a society that values white lives above all others and seeking the same treatment for black and other lives that are equally important and valuable.
• I'm tired of feeling scared for the safety of my children (my son in particular) and feeling powerless to do anything to protect them. Based on the events of the last few years that have captured national attention largely due to body cameras and social media, but make no mistake have been going on since the founding of this nation, apparently my children are not safe going to the grocery store, selling CDs or "loosies," reading in parked cars, wearing hoodies (sweatshirts with a hood), playing music too loudly, driving cars or being in their own neighborhood if it is considered too "nice," asking police why they stopped you because if you do and exert your rights as an American citizen, then you are perceived as being "non-compliant" which makes you threatening, raising your hands in the air clearly demonstrating you have no weapons and being fully compliant, all somehow manage to get you killed. Right now we can't even protest peacefully -- ala Colin Kaepernick -- without receiving death threats or being perceived as anti-American, or too sensitive, when simply exercising our rights as American citizens and our dissent with the status-quo. So as a mother who teaches her children to respect police and explains the police are the "good guys" there to protect and serve everyone, why more and more do I feel like this is a lie and that this lesson with each passing day, new murder, non-indictment/conviction for guilty police, becomes harder to teach.
• I'm tired of hearing the argument that "black-on-black crime" is the source of more black deaths than police brutality, which implies that African-Americans shouldn't be upset when murders are committed by the people sworn to protect and serve us (police); as if one has anything to do with the other. There are numerous reports and articles debunking the myth of black-on-black crime and providing evidence that "crime" happens most frequently within members of the same race, who live in the same community, city, etc. People who commit crimes, of any type, tend to do so within close proximity to themselves which is to say that in highly populated, deeply impoverished inner city areas largely inhabited by people of color, crimes will be perpetrated by and against other people of color. This has nothing to do with people of color targeting one another intentionally and everything to do with who lives in the same neighborhood/community. Further, those who insist on talking about black on black crime often fail to acknowledge that most crime is intra-racial. The most recent Department of Justice report on race and crime statistics, reports 93 percent of black murder victims are killed by other black people and 84 percent of white murder victims are killed by other white people. The continuous focus on black-on-black crime is a diversionary tactic, whose aim is to suggest that black people don't have the right to be outraged about police violence. The Black Lives Matter movement recognizes the crime problem, but refuses to allow this argument to cloud the real issue of police brutality/violence and abuse of authority. Oh and I should note that Black people are not inherently more violent or more prone to crime than other racial/ethnic group, despite anti #BlackLivesMatter arguments to the contrary; just because you say it doesn't make it true.
I could go on, but I won't because I've said a lot. What I want you to take away is that #BlackLivesMatter isn't just about black people; it is about all of us. We all have a voice and role to play in bringing about real change in our society, righting wrongs/injustices, and ensuring we are all truly seen and treated as equals. Here are a few small things you can do to get involved no matter where you fall on the spectrum:
• Put politics aside and be human: Show empathy, compassion, love for your fellow man, and listen to someone whose perspective differs from your own. Listen to how another person feels without debate and let their words sink in. You may not agree with it in theory but you can't negate the fact that this how the other person feels and likely with good reason informed by their own experiences. Do not let "white" or any other type of privilege cloud your vision and hinder your ability to "walk in another person's shoes."
• Don't be silent: If you are not black you might not feel like #BlackLivesMatter doesn't apply to you and you would be wrong. I have many friends who respond to posts on my Facebook and other social media pages privately, vehemently agreeing with the things I am saying and promoting and expressing their own pain, outrage, and disgust at what is happening. While I am highly appreciative of the support and commiseration I want more. Don't just respond to me privately, make your outrage public and share it with those in your inner circles who don't "get it." As a person who works and believes passionately in public diplomacy and attempts to practice the art of "winning hearts and minds," I encourage you to start talking and challenging those closest to you. If you hear them making asinine and inaccurate statements, don't sit in silence, because that makes you complicit. Take them to task and "school" them on what you know is right. If they are truly in your inner circle, ruffling their feathers won't have any serious impact on the relationship, be courageous.
• Join the movement; commit to change; and make a difference: Go beyond posting and reposting on social media, ACT! Get out there and march; show you are not okay with what is happening and let those in power see faces that look like their own, maybe then they will get the picture that this is a human issue. Write to your elected officials expressing your discontent and demanding accountability from them and police leadership. VOTE, elections are just around the corner, vote for the candidates you feel have the power and desire to do something more than perpetuate the status quo (Note: 88 percent of congress is up for re-election this year). "If you see something, say something" this slogan applies beyond airports and the NYC metro system; be a witness if you see an altercation or wrongful stop by police of a person of color, record it and monitor the encounter from afar, and stand witness. Who knows your presence might serve to de-escalate the situation and allow both parties to go home safely.
There is much more you can do, these are just a few suggestions; ultimately do what is best and most comfortable for you. Remember we are in this together and we all have a role to play, that silence and inaction make you complicit in perpetuating the status quo, and finally that things can be better and it is our responsibility to make sure things do get better.