The difference between us and them
I had a deep conversation with my daughter last night. She was watching footage of the Minneapolis riots and couldn’t understand why a mob of people would behave so. She’s intellectually challenged so it was a stretch to explain, but she does understand injustice and being bullied. She understands, sadly, how people can be pushed just so far and feel so hopeless before they lash out.
My heart has been so heavy and I’ve felt so overwhelmed the last week or so as the inhumane persecution of Black Americans plays out repeatedly and those of European descent turn a blind eye and deaf ear. So it took some soul-searching when she made a connection between the riots she was witnessing and the impact it had on her when her high school class studied the events of 9/11 and the assault against the United States.
I was heading on 40 years old when 9/11 happened; I remember it well. Of course the tragedy was large scale, but it was centralized in New York, at the Pentagon, and the thwarted highjacked jet that crashed in rural Pennsylvania. The response of terror and grief across the country was unprecedented. As a nation Americans were affected by the attack that resulted in an outpouring of patriotism and abject acceptance of the Department of Homeland Security’s encroachment of their civil liberties.
So I attempted to explain to my daughter how the enraged and outraged citizens after the events in 2001 can ignore the threats and injustices we see perpetrated against fellow citizens of color in the United States on a pretty regular basis. And the difference I can come up with is that the attacks of 9/11 were from a mysterious terrorist outsider against ALL Americans. It was threatening because it could be any of us who feel the unjust discrimination and persecution of a judgemental adversary. Because over 3500 people died as a result of 9/11 and the color of their skin was completely inconsequential.
But when it’s singular cases of injustice against Black men, or Indigenous women, or Muslims, well, that’s not against us, is it? Because a hell of a lot of European Americans who consider themselves to be the white race consider themselves to be different. Within our society there is still the pervasive — even subconscious — belief that people of color are less than. A suicide al Qaeda pilot from some foreign country has proven to be a threat to even white Americans. But the chances of being singled out and murdered by police officers or armed civilians while performing routine actions, umm, not really a problems for whities, is it?
I distinctly remember as a child hearing the outrage of my great aunt as she related an experience she had while traveling in Texas. She was involved in a minor accident, a fender bender of no real consequence. According to her, it was blatant racism and injustice that no citation was issued to the other driver because both he and the attending officer were Mexican. How dare they be in collusion against her because she was a white woman? Forty years later, and those beliefs may not be as blatantly expressed, but still largely pervasive.
My husband and I were discussing how profiling is a trickle-down corruption. If racism is committed by police officers, any tolerance is the fault of the Sergeant, then the Lieutenant, then the Captain, and up through the Commissioner. And if the department is corrupt, then it’s the responsibility of the city or county attorney to prosecute offenders. If the attorney turns a blind eye (as has been revealed with Amy Klobuchar failing to prosecute the officer who subsequently murdered George Floyd), it’s the responsibility of the governing body of the county or city or state to clamp down. Seems like there should be plenty of fail-safes to ensure lawful integrity, unless there’s just a string of palefaces who don’t really think racism is their problem. And at the level of elected officials who oversee subordinates, it HAS to be the voice of the voters who demand that racism is EVERYONE’S problem.
I have less and less tolerance for my fellow Americans who refuse to take a stand. Unlawful persecution of people of color, or discrimination of any kind, is not a religious issue, or political issue, or any other hot bed topic that “civilized” people are supposed to avoid. It’s human decency. Why is it so hard to identify as an American Against Racism and call it like it is? My daughter doesn’t understand. And neither do I.
Grateful for the First Amendment,
Grey Forge LeFey