June 5, 2020

We can’t Hide behind White Privilege Anymore—we Must be Anti-Racists.

I’m angry, disillusioned, and disappointed in this country.

What I’ve seen in the last three years (or more) has changed my opinion. Let me be clear. There is so much joy, love, beauty, kindness, caring, empathy, and compassion in this country and our world.

But, there is also hatred, stupidity, judgment, closed-mindedness, anger, frustration, resentment, violence, distrust, impudence, and fear that, lately, seems to be increasingly fueled by a federal government hell-bent on dividing us and instigating hatred.

I’m a white, Jewish woman, a progressive Democrat, a free-thinking contributor to ACLU, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, who believes that the content of one’s character is the most important thing about a person. We are all the same. We all bleed the same. We all cry the same. We all love the same.

We all want to live a safe, peaceful life filled with love, community, and the opportunity to provide for ourselves and our children—all of us.

Globally. All of humanity wants the same things. I believe that, although many disagree—the majority of people who walk this earth are in agreement. We are all the same.

Where did this go wrong?

This is how I explain what I hardly understand to my students. It’s oversimplified, but, to me, it makes sense:

Centuries ago, this began with the European Imperialist mindset of stealing whatever they wanted from anyone because they had the mighty armies, greed, and impudence to do it without hesitation or the conscience to think for a second it might be wrong.

The “new world” was colonized, but it was actually stolen from the Native Americans who had made it their home here for thousands of years. In the building of European settlements and the colonies that became the states of the United States, the slave trade started and expanded. 

After enduring centuries of systemic, institutionalized racism, it has taken approximately 157 years, since the Emancipation Proclamation, to “progress” this far. Hardly far at all.

Throughout the 20th century, too many Black Americans, and other people of color, have lived through the separate but unequal systemic racial inequality of economics and education.

This systemic, institutionalized racism is inescapable and affects every single decision, every single day, for every single Black person in this country. And not just in the last two centuries, but even today.

I was in tears yesterday after watching an Instagram video made by a former student of mine. Isaiah Washington is a highly intelligent, talented, compassionate young Black man who expressed his constant, overwhelming grief with palpably emotional expression. With his tears, he moved me through my own.

As a mom, I started to think about all the millions of mothers of Black boys and men who live in constant fear of the health, safety, and welfare of their amazing sons. For them, a simple walk to the corner store or to school, a simple drive to visit grandma, or a simple commute to work could be deadly.

Too many innocent Blacks are stopped, questioned, harassed, pulled over, arrested, roughed up, sized-up, ridiculed, suspected, scrutinized, accused, and killed for no other reason than the color of their skin. As Neil deGrasse Tyson put it in his article Reflections On the Color of My Skin, every day they face:

“Hyper-focused unfair, biased scrutiny and false, dangerous accusations made by police against people of color whose only ‘crimes’ were: DWB (Driving While Black), WWB (Walking While Black), and of course, or JBB (Just Being Black).”

My best friend’s Black husband has gotten pulled over, harassed, and questioned by the police in his own Long Island, New York neighborhood four times in the last couple of weeks. Every Black person I’ve talked to has these same experiences every single day.

This bullsh*t has been allowed to continue as we carry on with our own lives and the millions of distractions that parade through our lives. 

I have this luxury.

I am a white, Jewish woman who has faced a bit of antisemitism. As a child, I was spat on, and last winter was insulted and told I’m not really white because I am a Jew—that I’m a fake white person. And the vitriol with which this was stated scared me and temporarily caused me to shrink away and cower. But I had the luxury of hiding behind my pale skin and not dealing with it head-on. I closed my eyes to it and moved on.

I had my white privilege to hide behind. Too many of us hide here in plain sight—in doing so, we are part of the problem. Our silence perpetuates this awfulness.

I’ve tried explaining white privilege to people, and it is beyond frustrating when they don’t see it. I see and feel and experience my white privilege—every damn day. I try to speak up and spread awareness and educate the ignorant, while Black people get murdered for being Black—every damn day.

I can go jogging, ask for help after a car crash, listen to loud music in public, ask for directions, talk on my cellphone, sit on my front porch, go to a party, shop, read a book in my car, carry boxes of my stuff, run, take out my wallet, breathe, and live. All without being harassed, bullied, beaten, questioned, or killed just because of the color of my skin. For every single one of these banal actions, Black people have been murdered.

That’s some serious level bullsh*t.

Sure, it’s technically illegal to discriminate against someone because of gender, skin color, sexual identity, or preference, but it happens every day anyway. And quite often by the police who have sworn to protect and defend.

For too long, people have turned a blind eye or expressed their thoughts and prayers and then moved on. For too long this has continued.

This past week or so, it seems the tide may be turning. After months of living in fear of the deadly coronavirus and COVID-19, where millions of people worldwide were quarantined indoors to flatten the curve and slow the spread of this virus, I think we were more than ready to pounce like an overwound spring. Then when the tragic murder of George Floyd broke the news, the tightly coiled spring erupted. All across the nation, citizens with anti-racist passions took to the streets, the cities, the small towns, and Washington, to make their collective voices heard.

The first amendment of our constitution protects our right to protest. It is ingrained in our citizenship that it is our responsibility to challenge over-reaching authority.

“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” ~ James Madison

The most American thing we can do is a protest for the redress of grievances. And yet, armed like they were going to war. Police forces in our nation, who are sworn to protect the citizens, opened fire on peaceful protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets and drove armored police cars through crowds mowing down innocent, peaceful protesters.

Yes, some were fed up with the lack of improvement on this huge issue and the magnitude of the lives lost who looted and set fire to buildings to express their vehemence, frustration, and anger at the banal platitudes being offered. After being told that every method of peaceful protest is wrong and inappropriate, the frustration took over. The police should have focused their attention on the looters and protected the peaceful protestors in their efforts to keep the peace and avoid draconian curfews.

In Reflections on the Color of My Skin, it is said:

“If you are the police, pause and reflect how great is the country whose Constitution endorses peaceful protests.” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson  

So how do we change all this?

In that same article, Neil deGrasse Tyson offers “A list…for policy experts to consider:

1) Extend Police Academies to include months of cultural awareness and sensitivity training that also includes how not to use lethal force.

2) All Police officers should be tested for any implicit bias they carry, with established thresholds of acceptance and rejection from the Police Academy. We all carry bias. But most of us do not hold the breathing lives of others in our hands when influenced by it.

3) During protests, protect property. Protect lives. If you attack non-violent protesters, you are un-American. And we wouldn’t need draconian curfews if police arrested looters instead of protesters.

4) If fellow officers are behaving in a way that is clearly unethical or excessively violent, and you witness this, please stop them. Someone will get that on video, offering the rest of us confidence that you can police yourselves. In these cases, our trust in you matters more to a civil society than how much you stick up for each other.

5) And here’s a radical idea for the Minneapolis Police Department — why not give George Floyd the kind of full-dress funeral you give each other for dying in the line of duty? And vow that such a death will never happen again.

6) Lastly, when you see Black kids in the street, think of what they can be rather than what you think they are.” 

I am angry, frustrated, scared, and heartbroken.

I don’t have the answers, but there are actionable things we can do. We can support Black-owned businessesWe can donate money to the victim’s families. We can educate ourselves.

I don’t pretend to know what it feels like, but I will forever stand with my Black sisters, brothers, friends, students, and neighbors. The evil that is racism must stop.

I commit to being part of the change that is long overdue in the world. I hope you will, too. I do this today and every day because Black lives matter.

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