African and European Americans, those socially colored black and white, have different perspectives. That’s not the problem or even a problem. The problem comes in when race is included in the conversation. Because race says that only one side of the story is credible. Race says, “White is right.”
There have been lots of conversations about race: interviews, roundtable discussions, town hall meetings. I have watched well- dressed people, seemingly well- meaning people shout at each other, dismiss and devalue the experiences of one another. I understand that a lot is on the line, that admission on either side could result in either the lawsuits of history being brought to bear or the innumerable cases of injustice being thrown out altogether.
We are not speaking two different languages but telling two different stories: oppressor and oppressed, privileged and burdened, center and marginalized. We have different views because we are not in the same places and positions. We have grown up in two different Americas, on two different sides of the track, been given two different sets of expectations, one for and the other against.
As the cases of alleged and proven police brutality continue to rise, believing that police can be brutal is unbelievable for some. No matter the number of reports, eye witness testimonies and video recordings, you cannot make some of us accept this as a reality. No, it will need to happen to us. But, it probably won’t.
With the law historically on the side of those socially colored white, it is near impossible to believe that the law is not for all people. The reasoning goes: the law is good because it is good to me. But, this is the lie that we accept in order to hide our complicity and deny our guilt. We don’t turn a blind eye to injustice; we see it and look the other way. If I speak up for them, I may be viewed as one of them and lose my privileges.
We don’t really want to be “all God’s children.” We want to be the favorite. American exceptionalism tells us that we are.
To become a witness of oppression, socially colored white people must risk their (in)visibility, their whiteness. They would have to give up its privileges, no longer presumed innocent, right(eous), pure, good. They would have to confess whiteness as a lie and offer their own life as proof of its inconsistencies. And if they make visible the negative experiences of other cultures, they are joined with the group, losing power, position and presence. Judged “n***** lovers,” they are out of the in group. Now, do I have a volunteer?
We know that America is not an exception to the rule of violence, that those indigenous to what is now America, African Americans and other cultures have been oppressed in the name of whiteness. And if you don’t know, it is your job as an American to know. Stop calling it a “melting pot” if you want to live separately and apart from other cultures, if you don’t want to be grouped together, if you don’t want to be associated with other cultures, if we are not really all in this together.
It is important that we not only love our neighbor but that we know our neighbor. This knowing should not be based on the rumors of race but on lived experiences together. How can we be in a melting pot and there be no blending, no mixing, no melding together? It should be a relationship that allows you and I to know how each other feel and to know what I mean when I am telling my side of the story.
So, when I say, “police brutality,” I am not just speaking about today, yesterday, two days, two years or even twenty years ago.
But, when I say, “police brutality,” I am both at the beginning and the end. I am grieving for a people who have been told that they were the wrong social color and therefore deserve to be stolen, enslaved, brutalized from head to toe, inside and outside, from birth to death, whose last breath was breathed under oppression and excessive use of force.
I am thinking about their supervised lives under the watchful eye of masters and overseers. I am hiding from “paddy rollers” while looking for my “papers,” needed to travel outside of my slave owner’s property;
I am remembering slave catchers, the Underground Railroad and the tracks left on the backs of those caught.
I am thinking of Klansmen in white sheets who doubled as police officers, who were above the law and the African Americans brutalized in the name of it;
of crosses burned in yards because they are in the wrong neighborhood, because we don’t want you to be here, because you can’t be successful, because you think that you are better than us.
When I say, “police brutality, I am thinking of Ida B. Wells’ “Red Record,” of children, men and women lynched without judge or jury, who were blamed for crimes without due process of law and in order to provide social entertainment.
When I say, “police brutality,” I see bodies swinging, strange fruit cut down, canned, jarred limbs sold, bodies set on fire and then flashed with photography, placed on postcards and sent to relatives.
When I say, “police brutality,” I am thinking of the human brutality from slave ship to police stop. There are so many names between then and now. There is so much to account for. I cannot tell it all.
But, know that when I say, “police brutality,” I am saying so much more than you could ever hear– unless of course you said it too.