No, we aren’t the same; change starts with an acceptance of truth

All too often, a white person says to me, “Black people and white people aren’t so different.”

I understand that there can be a positive sentiment somewhere in that statement, but even when that sentiment is there, there is a lack of acceptance of a very real difference.

My usual response to that statement is to open my mouth slightly, take in a breath in order to begin speaking, then remember how these conversations usually go, then close my mouth and shove what I was going to say into a place deep within my soul that, at this point, is so full that my left eye probably won’t ever stop twitching.

But, for right now, I think I’ll take this opportunity to stray from my usual response, left eye be damned, and I’ll start with a story.

Did I ever tell you about the time my father lost everything he owned, except for his car and a bag of groceries?

Well, once upon a time in the 1980s in the far away land of Tucson, Arizona, my father left his apartment to go to the grocery store. Upon returning, he found his apartment to be locked from the inside. He banged on the door over and over until someone opened it. What he saw inside was a handful of guys cooking up drugs! They informed him that his apartment was now their apartment and that was the time my father lost everything he owned except for his car and a bag of groceries.

Maybe you were expecting a different ending.

Perhaps you were expecting that he might call the landlord or the police? Ah, well, the landlord never answers and at that particular time, the police did not go to that particular neighborhood. Maybe it was because a politician’s crime stats would be thrown into disarray. Maybe it was because that particular neighborhood was too dangerous for the police to feel safe patrolling. Maybe it was because there were no white people in that particular neighborhood. I don’t know, but the particulars didn’t really matter much to my father.

The police obviously aren’t the only particular problem here. Even if they had come down to his neighborhood and arrested the trespassers, those trespassers would be out in a day, they knew how to get into his apartment and my father had to sleep sometime.

When I tell this story, oftentimes a white person brings up statistics about how we’re all doing so much better now than we were then. In case you’re thinking that very thing right now, a problem with statistics is that there are often specific, intended readers for those statistics. There’s a target audience.  My father was never part of that target audience. And my father’s old neighborhood isn’t part of any statistics. Its economy isn’t part of “The Economy.” Its people aren’t part of any group this country chooses to identify as. For all those reasons, and probably a few others, we have no idea how many places are just like it all over the country. And honestly, I don’t think we really want to know.

Usually now is when white people start talking about class, but before we get into that, let me tell you another story. 

Did I ever tell you about that time when I was a kid that an old, white lady with bad eyesight accused me of a crime that was committed by a totally different Black kid? I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that the whole thing ended with my public defender pleading me out against my will. 

How about that other time when I was a kid and I got jumped? During the process, I got beat up pretty badly and my bike was destroyed. After the responsible parties were found and admitted guilt, the police told me they weren’t going to do anything about it because, “They said you were running your mouth.”

And there was the time in elementary school when Officer Friendly put the cuffs on me to show the class what it looked like, against my will, while he laughed…

There was the time the police falsely accused me of breaking tombstones… Shooting out street lights…

I could go on.

Now, here’s the part that may surprise you. Without even counting any of those incidents, I have been stopped by the police (while driving, walking, standing still and yes—a couple times in the ‘90s—while rollerblading) 38 times, while somehow, only ever getting one ticket.

Two of those 38 times were in front of my own apartment. One was when a cop put his spotlight on me and began hollering because he thought I was about to attack a white girl entering her apartment.

The reality was that my girlfriend and I were just walking into our apartment together

The other was when a plain-clothes cop tried to buy drugs from me as I stood there, shirtless, in my running shorts sweating and breathing heavily…Because I’d just been running, not because I was high…Maybe a runner’s high…Yeah, he didn’t like that joke either.

Those two particular times stick out for me because, like my father, I also live in a neighborhood where the cops don’t go.

But the reasons for absent police are very different. 

For the last seven years, I have lived on a short, quiet street in a residential neighborhood that’s gentrifying so quickly that I might be white by the time I finish writing this.

Seriously, though. I probably see a cop on my street once a year. Maybe.

I’ve already told you about two of those annual sightings, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, it is fair to say that I live in a middle-class neighborhood, and my father did not. Does that class difference make my life easier? Absolutely. Does that class difference erase the racism?

Not at all.

This past weekend, in my beautiful, white, middle-class, gentrifying neighborhood, someone broke into my brand-new truck. They smashed up my console, stole my toll money and a few other things.

My insurance company said I could file a claim without filing a police report, so that’s exactly what I did.

Maybe you were expecting a different ending.

Perhaps you thought I would call the police.

I informed my neighbors, but I’m just not going to call the cops.

See, professionally, I am a musician, so my job requires late nights and loading my gear in and out of a vehicle. If this gentrification has its way and I turn white, maybe a few extra patrols might leave me feeling a little bit safer doing that. But, right now, as the only Black person in a five-block radius, the last thing I want is a cop rolling up on me in the middle of the night, seeing me load things in and out of a brand-new truck.

Maybe you’d still call the police. Maybe color is a difficult thing for you to see here, so let me put it another way.

If you have had vast, personal experience with police and that experience has only ever been 100% negative, it doesn’t matter what opposing statistics say. It doesn’t matter what social class you’re in. It doesn’t even matter what’s written on the side of the police car. You would be a fool to ask for help from someone who has only ever tried to harm you.

And just in case you think my life is some sort of exception, or that I’m some sort of outlier, that’s my exact point. My story may be practically unheard of for white people, but it is all too common for Black people. Philando Castile had been stopped by the police more than 50 times before a police officer eventually pulled him over and murdered him in front of his family.

Black people and white people live in very different worlds and because of that, we are very different peoples.

To dismiss that difference is to not only dismiss the suffering of a people, but also your own opportunity to help.

So, please, if you’re interested in helping, acceptance is the first step.


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Of a crumbling house and bended knees

We can all agree that this country is not perfect. Some parts work very well. Other parts are very broken. Naturally, because we want a more perfect union, we want to fix what is broken. Because there are so many of us, it is difficult for all of us to see all of the problems. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing it. Awareness. But because there are so many of us, sometimes it takes a lot of us to solve a problem. We need to spread awareness. One of the many ways we do that is through protest.

“Why are all those people in the street?”

“What does that picket sign say?

“Why is that man kneeling?”

Why is that man kneeling? I’m glad you asked. So many people don’t.

In broad terms, the kneeling man is a citizen who sees a problem with the country that, unfortunately, a lot of other citizens don’t yet see.

“What is the problem he sees?”

He sees that a system, while lauded for its equality, actually serves and protects some while brutalizing and victimizing others.

He’s drawing attention to an emergency.

He wants the country to be better.

He strives for a more perfect union.

You’re an American. You want that.

“Is it the right time?”

There’s an emergency affecting Americans. It needs to be fixed as quickly as possible. Now is always the time to help a fellow American. It is always the time to make this a better country. Plus, that’s the thing about emergencies: they’re…inconvenient.

“Oh, but it’s not so much the ‘when’ as it is the ‘where’.”

Ah, well, again, that’s the thing about emergencies.

“Well, it’s more the ‘how.’ It’s the method of communication.”

OK. Listen, if you get a text that someone’s breaking into your car, and you decide not to do anything because that’s not the kind of thing you like to get texts about…Honestly, you’re starting to sound like you’re not very patriotic.

I mean, you’re being told there’s a crack in the foundation of your house. And I’d hate to think you’re saying that, not only do you not want to fix the crack or even address the crack, you don’t want anyone to even tell you about the crack.

I’d hate to think that you would rather live in a house on the verge of collapse than even hear someone talk about fixing it.

I’d hate to think you had such a self-destructive mind set. That would mean you didn’t care about this country at all. That much would be obvious, but that wouldn’t even be the problem. I mean, if you had that self-destructive mind-set, it would also be obvious that you didn’t care about your fellow Americans. But that also wouldn’t be the problem.

I’d hate to think you had that self-destructive mindset because it would mean that you didn’t even care about yourself.

For the rest of us it won’t matter much. We’ll fix the foundation. It’ll take longer without you, but one way or the other it’ll get fixed.

But for you, you’d be lost. Your fellow citizens would have a difficult time seeing your value. You’d be abandoned and alienated. Your self-destructive behavior would invalidate even your opinions.

I’d hate to think that could happen.

What’s that? It sounded like you said that you believe in his right to protest, but you disagree with the message. It sounded like you said that he can tell everyone about it as much as he wants, but Black people should continue to die in the street– Did I say “Black”? I don’t mean to make this political. Some people don’t like to discuss politics or have their views known. Some people wear their politics on their skin, a skin that loudly shouts their views, even while they sleep.

I’m sure you didn’t mean it like that.

“It’s not about me. This is offensive to the veterans.”

Honestly, if you’re going to bring up the veterans as though you are defending them, I can only hope that you are actually defending them as well. I can only hope that you’re donating your time and money to veterans’ issues. I can only hope that you’re donating your time and money to fight homelessness. I can only hope you’re donating your time and money to suicide prevention. Because if you’re not actually defending the veterans, but instead only invoking the idea of veterans so you can garner pity for yourself…well, that would mean you value being pitied above being an American. That would mean that using nothing but your own putrid bigotry, you’d reduced yourself to just a vulgar thing…

I’m sure you didn’t mean it like that.

You know, my father’s favorite athletes, like a lot of men of his generation, were Jackie Robinson and Tommie Smith and John Carlos and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammed Ali…

My father was a veteran.

While serving in Viet Nam, he was wounded physically, mentally and emotionally. Those wounds never healed. They bled the rest of his 71 years. Those wounds bled so people could enjoy the full benefits of this country– Pardon me, his wounds bled so some people could enjoy the full benefits of this country.

But he was not one of those people.

My father was Black.

I hope you’re not saying that his wounds bled so you could point to them as evidence that he was undeserving of the same rights you possess. I hope you’re not saying that the blood from his wounds only serves as a currency for your convenience, but does not even signify his own humanity. I hope you’re not saying that the only use for nigger blood is to ensure and sustain white leisure…because I’ve heard that before.

We’ve all heard that before.

But that’s probably not what you’re saying and if it is, I’m sure you didn’t mean it like that.


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Your new Black friend explains racism

As a white person discussing race, sometimes you are confronted with a Black person who does not want to explain to you why something is racist. The reason you need this explanation is because you probably don’t have any Black friends. Not definitely, but probably. It’s just how numbers work. It’s also how segregation works, but sometimes it’s also because of you. You may have said something stupid and didn’t know any better because you don’t have any Black friends…

It’s a vicious circle and, really, you need a Black friend. So just for this blog post, even though we’ve never met, I am going to be your Black friend.

There.

We’re friends.

Now that we’re friends, I think it’s time for some tough love.

A lot of times it just isn’t worth trying to explain racism to you. For me, there are three reasons.

1: You don’t trust us with our own experiences. Every person of color I have ever met has at least 574 bazillion stories that are all the same: We tell a white person about a racist experience only to have that white person respond with something like, “Are you sure it happened like that?” as though we are incapable of understanding our own experiences.

Remember that time your friend/parent/significant other/coworker/complete stranger was mad at you and no one else could tell? Of course you do. You know that experience very well, but when it comes to race, you’re not willing to allow another person that knowledge of experience. I think it’s important to ask yourself why that is. If your answer is #notallwhitepeople then this list probably isn’t long enough for you.

Oftentimes, if we get to the point where you acknowledge our experiences, the very next thing you say is, “I’m sure they didn’t mean it like that.” Not only is this still saying we don’t understand our experiences, it also means…

2: You think intent is more important than it is. Look, intent is useful in that it’s a predictor of future behavior, but it’s not a particularly good one. A much better predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

There are some dudes in the KKK who don’t hate Black people. Really. It’s just that they live in a rural place with nothing much to do and their cousin is a member and setting things on fire is fun. Their intent may be nothing more than to hang out with the boys on the weekend, but I’ll tell you what. If those boys show up at 3 a.m. burning a cross on my lawn, and you think it’s a good idea to investigate their individual intents, well, again, you’re going to need a longer list than this one.

I told you this was going to be tough love.

That makes this whole thing so difficult because…

3: So much is about your feelings! Just this week I watched two white guys talk about how much it sucks to be assumed a villain just because you’re a white guy. Yes. That actually happened. Right in front of me.

Look, having your feelings hurt does suck, no matter who you are. I’m not going to deny that, but as a Black person, I wish we could get to a place where anything was about my feelings. That would be incredible. I would genuinely love that. Unfortunately, while hurt feelings may be the result of being stereotyped as a white man, as a Black man, being stereotyped, all too often, means I die.

A white guy in a suit is a business man. A Black guy in a suit is a gangster. A white guy with a gun is a patriot. A Black guy with a gun is a gangster. A white guy who loves marijuana is a stoner. A Black guy who loves marijuana… you get the idea.

The point is it’s difficult for me to hear your complaints from inside this coffin.

Still friends?

Good.

Then I’ll tell you the secret to holding onto this friendship as well as forging others:

If your friends say they’re suffering, trust them and ask what you can do to help.

Just like you would with any friend.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.