This summer has really been a scorcher and I'm not just talking about the temperatures common this time of year.
A girlfriend, who happens to be Native American, recently changed her profile photo on Facebook (FB) to say, "Black Lives Matter." She was berated by a few "friends" for doing so and had to defend her actions. She explained that the slogan doesn't mean that only black lives matter, but that black lives (should) matter now. She further asserted that the basis of her profile change was in support of an oppressed people, much like the historic mistreatment of Native Americans. Only this time it's the people of color (specifically black men and black women) who have been the targets of injustice, assaults and killed by people (Fatal Force) sworn to protect all citizens. The widely used police motto "To Protect and Serve" never included an exclusion clause based on race, gender, or sexual orientation.
I was impressed and proud of my friend's bold stance and how she dared to make a statement and start a conversation about racism, violence and, more importantly, power. The topic of race is so fragile that it has forced us all to reevaluate how we prioritize our existence. More so, it boggles my mind that more (white) people don't get it. We U.S. citizens often speak of progresses made on the civil rights front but when we lift our country's rose-colored glasses and peer into the nooks and crannies of this country, we discover that our house is still in need of some serious work. The question though is how can a community heal recent wounds without further inflicting more pains? Maybe the answer is to simply treat people with dignity and respect, but the real answer is unclear.
As tempers rightfully raged in response to the horrific killings of the LGBTQ victims (and allies) at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I kept my thoughts and words to myself. When several ill-educated people's posts came across my Facebook feed insinuating that the Black Lives Matter movement was a hate group, I forced myself away from my keyboard to prevent responding with scathing commentary and un-friending the ignorant. People are entitled to their opinions no matter how off base those ideas are. And because I couldn't stand watching another person of color bleed out in high-definition under yet again the hands of law enforcement, I had to put myself in a media "blackout." Truthfully, it just hurt too much to view the reposted video feeds on social media and watch the images on television of the injustice. To hear the pain from the victim's parent/fiancée/sibling pleas for justice even haunted me in my sleep.
The pain is real and I have been suffering from the heartbreak and fear of what could happen next. I may not have known anyone directly impacted by these recent events of the season, but they have made me apply caution to my life in areas where I would normally take for granted such as my commute to and from work. The day after the shooting of Philando Castile, I was pulled over by a state trooper. I wasn't speeding or driving in anyway that would be deemed as erratic or unsafe. I actually saw the trooper miles back in my rear view mirror and didn't want to draw any attention to myself. He passed me and then crossed over to the far right lane as I then passed him. The trooper then pulled up behind me again and that's when the light show started. This young (white) trooper pulled me over as a "courtesy" he said, to let me know one of my headlights was out. I had no idea. The trooper still ran my license and checked for insurance before letting me go. When I saw the lights flashing in my rear view mirror, it made my heart skip a beat. Did I mention it was also a sunny day so my headlights aren't required to be on?
As I pulled away, the ordeal made me feel embarrassed and also mad. With all of the countless other vehicles on the road, in far worse condition, why did I get singled out? Was it an issue of DWB (Driving While Black)? It's not like I was driving with the stereo thumping out European House music in a raised pink Hummer with a unicorn hood ornament, spinning hubcaps, and a rainbow flag on the bumper (nothing wrong with that if you do). I drive a very nondescript vehicle, a tan colored Hyundai Elantra. The car is in pretty awesome condition. I take a lot of pride in keeping my ride in great shape. In my opinion, the trooper should have been more sensitive to the timing of his actions. I get it, the trooper was only doing his job and it was just bad timing? I live in the very liberal bubble of Portland, Oregon. That liberal mentality unfortunately doesn't necessarily extend south down the Interstate or throughout the entire state.
I do respect the men and women in our law enforcement and always have. I understand the potential dangers of their work and even have friends of various ethnicities in uniform. As a boy growing up in a military family, you are taught to respect the uniform. Sadly, bad people exist in and out of the uniform and in every color. Racism and bias of any kind can easily be disguised and hidden underneath the cotton, silk, and polyester blends that clothe our politicians, preachers, and even our protectors. I and other people of color are fed up with the social inequities, disparities, and injustices that have been inherently placed on many law-abiding citizens. Historically, we have been dealt the short hand in the game of life from the start of this "American" life. Even the achievements made by African-Americans since our "emancipation" have been overlooked and underplayed or worse, granted credit to a white person.
I'm a black gay male and this is now my reality.