I’m a queer white immigrant to the United States, not rich, not particularly poor. I’m roughly the same number of missed paychecks from homelessness as most people in these parts. I’m from a country that has its issues with racism, but nothing prepared me for the depth and breadth of the racial issues that are nakedly expressed here.
Thing is, when you show up at the airport, visa in hand, nobody hands you a copy of The Manual. “Chapter 1, Page 1: You know that slavery thing? We didn’t really end it. Oh no. We just called everything something different, changed a few things around so they seemed plausible, and lied to ourselves for a century about it. No more slave ships from Africa, so we just round up black people for trivial or nonexistent crimes. No more plantations, so we just have an enormous privatized prison system in which the aforementioned black people (felons, mind you, not slaves, so we don’t need to feel guilty about that) can be put to work for free. I bet you didn’t see what we did there! No? Good. Keep watching Fox, it’ll all work out fine.”
The powers that be lost the battle to retain slavery, but they cheated and got it back by other means. They lost the battle in the civil rights era, but cheated some more. The phony War on Drugs utterly failed to do anything useful about the narcotics trade, whilst effectively providing a way to legitimize mass internment of the black population. Repression, poverty and willful neglect contribute to the existence of a very tangible school-to-prison pipeline. Far too many young black men and a not insignificant number of black women are lucky to avoid incarceration and ultimately violent death.
Like most of the people I know, I’ve looked on in utter horror at Ferguson and the literal whitewashing of the judicial process that followed. Unlike a lot of white people, I’ve had some personal experience of police bigotry, so it’s not a theoretical thing for me. Intersectionality bingo is not a game worth playing, however, because it’s always going to be a race to the bottom. This isn’t about me.
Ferguson happened, and I said nothing. I didn’t know where to start. To be honest, I think I was more afraid that once I did start, I’d have no way to stop. As Wittgenstein said, “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” This silence wasn’t consent, however: it was terror.
This is such a tautology that my mind breaks open at the thought that it needs to be said at all, but the slightest attention toward current events makes it blatantly obvious that it does. Loudly and often. I’m Wiccan and am serious about living by the Rede: an it harm none, do what ye will. Black lives matter, period. #BlackLivesMatter is a complete sentence, which doesn’t require justification, and it sure as hell shouldn’t need explanation. Not because #BlackLivesMatter is some special case of a more general obviously-true statement constructed to assuage white guilt, but because the system we are all locked in to, whether we like it or not, whether we consent or not, is responsible for a level of repression of black people that is utterly unconscionable. #BlackLivesMatter is therefore a mantra, not just a statement of fact.
I don’t have any answers. I fear the system. I’m not a citizen, so my life could be effectively or literally destroyed at the whim of a wide selection of people in power. I can’t protest directly because the consequences of my being arrested would be disproportionately severe in comparison with those for a typical US citizen. The First Amendment does at least protect my right to speech, so however infinitesimal the contribution this column might be, it’s all I’ve got. I can follow the Rede, I can seek the greater compassion to the limit of my strength, but the system isn’t mine to fix. I can’t apologize, since doing so would be futile at best, but I won’t comply with the societal apologetics that legitimizes the oppression of black people.
An it harm none, do as ye will.