Friday, July 08, 2016

Black Lives Don't Matter...Enough

Philando Castile and Alton Sterling are dead. Unnecessarily dead. They were killed by police officers whose job it is to protect and serve. Somehow in their efforts to protect and to serve, two men are dead.

How could this ever happen? How could this ever happen again? There is no indication that these men did anything worthy of being killed. Not even close. So if they did not do anything that required their deaths, then why are they dead?

There are lots of things we want to be true that are not true. We want some things to be true because it sure would make it a lot simpler.  We want this to be an isolated event. It isn't.  We want the killing to be justified in some way. It isn't. We want it not to be about race. It is getting to be an impossible argument to justify given how often this happens.

Under what conditions does it make any sense that black men keep getting killed by police? Is it the same processes that allow my white law breaking friend with no front license plate get away with it for 8 years while my black friend who one time broke an obscure law about dog walking get cuffed and stuffed? Maybe. What are those conditions, if they even exist?

The energy that is perpetuating the sense that Black Lives Don't Matter Enough could possibly flow from three different, but related social processes

None of us feel the upper level winds. The upper level winds are not something we feel on our skin. However, these winds can push a hurricane toward us or away from us. They can move a massive blizzard north or south. No one can see or feel the upper level winds as they are imperceiveable, but the implications of what they do to the things that do impact people are highly consequential.

Perhaps we can think of prevailing cultural norms and performed cultural assumptions as the upper level winds that push the hurricanes and blizzards of discrimination, objectification, and ranking of people's value based on arbitrary categories such as skin color. My point is that there may be some very powerful forces at work that are not easily observed (by some)

One might rush to call out racism as the problem - and I agree that it is, but what if the word racism did not exist? What if we had to describe the processes at work using other terms? What are these processes at work that make it more likely that people with darker skin will get worse treatment, in general, than people with lighter skin?

Resisting White Privilege Erosion
The privileges that white people enjoy in the world and in the United States are many. However, these privileges have been modestly eroding over time (and that is very good and a very "Declaration of Independence-ish" thing by the way). With civil rights progressing slowly and in fits and spurts as well as demographic shifts from white to non-white accelerating, the power structure of people who are white owning and controlling most things, organizations, and political offices is in modest decline. Make no mistake, Whites are still the most privileged by far, but there is modest decline and it is being detected by some whites.

No one likes to lose privilege. It is not a person's "whiteness" that makes them not like losing privilege, it is their humanness. Being white is not a sin and no one should be made to defend themselves because of their skin color. Not liking the loss of privilege is a human thing. The privilege in the USA just happens to be distributed in vastly greater quantities to whites right here and right now - and often, if not usually, it is at the cost of non-whites.

When people feel like they are losing something that they believe belongs to them, they are going to put up some resistance. With the the modest erosion of white privilege occurring in the USA, there is a coalescing resistance to the erosion that appears to be gaining momentum. In some cases, there is a no holds barred resistance to the recent modest erosion of white privilege and it gets ugly.

Resistance to white privilege erosion manifests itself in claims of reverse discrimination, in knee jerk reactions to immigration policies, in convenient amnesia concerning the relatively short history of the nation in general and what appears to be the betrayal of the melting pot impulses that made this country great in the first place.

For example, when a black man is killed by police and it is highlighted in the news, it is almost certain that someone will post something like this on social media: "White man killed by police and no one cares" or someone will post the pseudo enlightened statement about how All Lives Matter. Yes, all lives matter. The white lives matter, but this fact is not even in question. The extent to which the Black Lives Matter or matter enough is most certainly in question. These are a couple of the many, many ways that resistance to the erosion of white privilege plays out. The irony of the resistance to the erosion of white privilege is that it can only be considered a just response based upon the assumption that the very privilege being defended doesn't exist.

Furthermore, resistance to white privilege erosion necessitates identifying who the "eroders" are - which of course ends up being those with less privilege - non-whites. Resisting the erosion of white privilege must have enemies and people who are considered the "takers." Resisting the erosion of white privilege is a social process that is divisive and can be very immoral, and runs a terrible risk of being vulnerable to the seduction of unthinkable things. The narrative of White Supremacy can filter its way in and take root before it is even recognized - some otherwise honest person could become an accidental White Supremacist. Not good.

Black Lives Matter is hard to accept for the person who is resisting the erosion of their privilege. If resisting the erosion of white privilege is paramount, then Black Lives Don't Matter...Enough.

Indifferent White Silence
If resisting the erosion of white privilege is one process that foments the conditions where hostility could erupt, the indifference of white silence is white privilege leveraged against non-whites. Being socially situated to have the option of apathy can feel like a neutral non-response to events and social processes that occur seemingly outside of circle of influence or circle of concern, but indifferent white silence is anything but neutral. The "not my problem" mentality is itself an act of hostility. Indifferent white silence is potentially lethal.

How is it that the (mostly white) right to life people are silent when people are killed?
How is it that the (mostly white) NRA is silent when guns are used to kill people whose right to carry is leveraged against them?
How is it that white church is silent on these matters? And if not silent, almost completely inactive?

The social process of indifferent white silence means there will never be the necessary relationships that allow for the strengths of diversity. It perpetuates the distance that makes the kinds of devastating losses experienced in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights not hurt white people. Indifferent white silence serves to insulate white people from the pain experienced by Blacks that would otherwise motivate action. If lots of white people were friends with the people who were killed, the white people would experience the loss in ways that would not be tolerable. When your friend is unjustly killed, it is impossible to be indifferent. It is impossible to be silent. When it is someone unlike you or anyone you know, who lives way over there, and might be in a group the appears to be involved in the erosion of your privilege, it is pretty hard to care much about the loss. In such a case, caring about such tragedies is optional.

Black Lives Matter is hard to accept while maintaining a social process of indifference and silence. If protecting the right to be indifferent and silent is paramount, then Black Lives Don't Matter...Enough.

Perpetuating White Obliviousness
One of the most insidious conditions of privilege of any kind is how much obliviousness can be up and running. Obliviousness is a difficult condition to remove because by definition there is no awareness of its existence. People who have more privilege do not need to know the assumptions, experiences, or burdens of people with less privilege because there is no perceived gain worth putting forth the effort. The perpetuation of White obliviousness is almost impossible to detect, and in the rare cases it is detected, it is difficult to motivate the unraveling of the obliviousness in order connect with less privileged people. People with less privilege, however, have to be aware of those with more privilege because it may be that there is some stake in it for them.

I want to make the point that obliviousness is not the same as stupid. Obliviousness is to be unaware of knowledge or information while being stupid is incapable of having the knowledge or information. It is not about intelligence, but it is about perspective.

Now, obliviousness can operate at the individual level, and that is problematic enough. However, obliviousness does its best and most sinister work at the level of social process. The unwritten rules, the unspoken rules, and even the unknown rules that keep entire groups of White people unaware of the everyday realities of non-Whites generally operate in ways that are experienced as "normal." No one is trying to be oblivious, but when all of the options highlighted before someone are all different ways to continue to be oblivious of certain things while being aware of others, there is little chance to break through the social forces at work to become aware.

However, the way to break the obliviousness is to take initiative and make friends with people who have less privilege. The blinders can come off quickly when you are friends with people who do not carry the same sets of assumptions as you do.

Black Lives Matter is hard to accept while perpetuating White obliviousness. If the commitment to simply choosing from the easy options available without exploring what it is like to be someone with less privilege is paramount, then Black Lives Don't Matter...Enough.

Are the upper level winds of White Privilege in America pushing hurricanes and blizzards of horrific outcomes like the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling? Are the social processes of resisting white privilege erosion, maintaining indifferent white silence, and perpetuating white obliviousness actually social processes and if they are do they have any bearing on the recent violence? I don't know for certain. What I do know is that these processes increase the likelihood of division between people, weaken the social safety net, and make genuine empathy between Whites and non-Whites next to impossible.

When Black Lives Matter Enough to everyone, then we collectively take away the current and completely unnecessary risks of being Black  in America. Until then, we are all partially complicit in contributing to the conditions that make killing make sense..

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