Je suis …

Je suis … January 14, 2015

This past week the world saw twelve slaughtered in a horrific act of what some news outlets call “extremists terror”. My heart goes out to the families of those killed in retaliation for a cartoon – an insult. This murderous deed instantaneously engendered global human solidarity in ways not often seen amongst believers and nonbelievers alike (mostly). CNN told me that freedom of expression and the freedom to criticize were “under siege”. Well damn. That was the sentiment across most headlines (and oh yeah, twelve people died). The week yielded pernicious victim blaming from those like Catholic fundamentalist Bill Donahue who basically said that the satirist paper was asking for this. For the most part however, we saw solidarity.

Almost overnight I saw my social media feed blow up with #JeSuisCharlie.

London Street Art
London Street Art

It reminded me of how many of us shared in the national outrage decrying the problem of excessive force with #BlackLivesMatter!

Police brutality, which does not always result in death, has always been an issue in minority communities. Growing up in Brooklyn you see your fair share, regardless of the color line. When we see national stories of brutality reinforcing what many of us already know, we get angry, we get passionate, and we get motivated. “#BLACKLIVESMATTER!!” – (note the very angry ALL CAPS and the double exclamation points!!)

The minority vs police problem goes as far back as America does, due in part to the tactics of policing slaves which are still in use today. Spend a few hours with my friends from the NYPD (not being facetious) and you’ll starkly see how “black and whitely” the blue badge of courage evenly dispenses justice and approaches those in my “BedStuy” in contrast to Justin Warner’s gentrified version, where some of my very loving, active, and socially conscious secular friends argue the repugnance of a foie gras donut – while ordering one (yes it’s a real thing). So when I saw attention being paid to “#BlackLivesMatter!” I was genuinely elated. Perhaps for that brief moment in time, we would have the conversation that has been obfuscated by “progress”. (Thanks Obama!)

It didn’t take long for the conversation to shift to “#AllLivesMatter” – as if pointing out that “BlackLivesMatter” somehow invalidated “OtherLivesMattering”.  As a Humanist, I wholeheartedly agree that all lives do – but as a person of color, I understand that hue, shade, and tone can play a critical factor in how I’m treated. Even though I am a Humanist, I’m still Black. As a Humanist I am concerned about the plight of my friends in NYC, my relatives in Haiti, the ongoing inequality that so many of my friends can’t see, and the loss of those in France – including the families of those that pulled the triggers. Including those that would die defending them.

But just as people were paying attention to a very real problem – red herrings appeared. “#WhiteLivesMatter!”, “#PeopleMatter”, and the big blue fish – “#CopsLivesMatter”. Yes they do. That’s one of the reasons the Police have guns. It’s to protect their lives. So much so, as we learned a blink ago, that they’ll ensure 41 shots, 19 flesh laden bullets, and 4 acquittals later – that they’re protected.

It’s always terrible when a police officer is killed in the line of duty. We honor them constantly postmortem perhaps not enough ante. We do not drag their conduct records into the light and posit whether they smoked pot OFF duty (relevant or not), because its rarely important. We almost unquestioningly laud adulation on our protectors and saviors. The question was not whether their lives mattered – nor was it a time to address the other trout “Black on Black” crime.

“What are we going to do about it?”  – Well hell, what about crime in general? Bill O’Reilly threw out a statistic that Whites were three times more likely to be shot by police than Blacks. Would that not suggest that there might be a really big White crime problem? Or perhaps population demographics skew the conversation.

Again – not the point. However if you spend time skeptically reviewing police misconduct records (and in some cases the LACK thereof) – you may find that some concerns are warranted. While you’re at it, if you’re an adult scratching your head about the 41 shot reference – you may want to Google that too (hint: Diallo). #HisLifeDidn’tMatterThenEither

“#BlackLivesMatter!” was an opportunity for us to address the transparency that many of us sought. It was an appeal to dialog with our peers from outside our communities about what “we” saw, what “we” see – even within the secular world. It was a request for  an affirmation of what many did not see reflected in society and invitation for public discourse about something that mattered to them. Its something that Humanists should’ve been concerned about. It should’ve mattered to us. It was something we should all have spoken up about. We wanted solidarity, but too often many of our global members fall beneath the color line and remain invisible. We should not have dismissed or diluted the point. It wasn’t ours to tint with our utopian colorblind Humanists’ calls  that started with “well all things being equal…” – because not all things are equal.

So I’m going to take page out of my friends’ playbook and I’m going to do something I just argued against. I’m going to take a stand with #JeSuisCharlie because my freedom to express and criticize was challenged too. I will criticize religion, I will criticize ideology, I will criticize authority, and I will tag my own backyard if need be. And I’ll take my written and verbal licks in return.

However in the end, though #AllLivesMatter!,  it is not the extremist Islamic fundamentalist that is more likely to take me out, but an ill-informed nervous trigger happy officer who profiled me because of my dress, my hair, my tats, — and my color. Will you still remain silent then?

So here’s my co-opting of a message in an attempt to remind many you of our last conversation –


Excuse me while I take a breath…


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