Holding “both/and” instead of “either/or.”
We so desperately want to live in a post-racial America, but we don’t. We have to talk about race no matter how uncomfortable or painful, because it still determines the vastly different lived experiences of white and black or brown people.
I still think of this incident with shame. Something like 10 years ago, I locked myself out of my house. Because my dog was inside, I couldn’t wait until the next morning to call a locksmith, so I convinced a friend to break the window in my backdoor. My friend, a young African-American man, didn’t want me to leave him alone in my living room. He was afraid neighbors would report the noise we made breaking the glass and call the police. Imagine the police arriving to find what clearly looked like a break-in with a young black man in the house.
We laugh about it now, but our reactions at that moment speak volumes. What was to me, in all my white privilege, a flighty loss of keys that could easily be explained if the police arrived was for him a potentially dangerous and even lethal situation.
When I look at the video of Eric Garner being subdued by the police, I do not see a man resisting arrest. But others see something I don’t see. The myth of the big, scary black man is powerful, and I don’t doubt their fear is real.
No matter how many times I look at that video, the only frightening thing I see is the police officer who put him in a chokehold while others pinned him to the ground. I am furious he is dead. It doesn’t matter if he had 1,000 prior arrests, he shouldn’t be dead.
How can we not be overwrought with grief that 12-year-old Tamir Rice is dead? A white boy of the same size and age playing with the exact same pellet gun would be alive today.
So we protest in all our fury and sorrow with no apologies for too many black lives lost. That doesn’t mean we don’t also mourn for Officers Lui and Ramos, who were assassinated by a madman. We know police officers are workers doing very dangerous jobs. They are also the heroes who valiantly saved lives during 9-11 heedless of the risk to their own.
We can have two seemingly opposing thoughts at the same time, because both things are true. When we say #blacklivesmatter, it doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter. It isn’t oppositional to white lives or police lives but to institutional racism. Talk of institutional racism angers people; they call it race baiting. But we have to talk about it, because it exists and silence is killing us.
Sandi Vito, New York, NY