On the news, I heard that another black man has been shot and killed by a white policemen. I frowned, and walked on. On social media, I heard more. “Aren’t you outraged!” the posts said. “Look, now they are firing on the protesters. THOSE white bigots will never give blacks a break!” I bowed my head.
Then I went to church. Here again I heard the story in the sermon. My minister was shocked at the violence. She lamented that because she is white, she is largely exempt from this type of discrimination. She suggested that we keep those people in our thoughts, because isn’t it sad that THEY have to worry about being shot in the street. I sighed.
As a black woman who grew up in Dallas, Texas, stories of black men being killed by white police officers are nothing new. I’ve heard such stories all of my life. I grew up listening to harrowing tales of how black men are victimized and denied opportunities in our society.
Few remember that in the Reagan area (a time that some currently portray as idyllic) , the unemployment rate for black men was 25%! That means that one in every four was unemployed. People saw a black man and thought of someone who was poor, or had come from poverty. They saw someone liable to rob them, someone likely to be in a gang.
I’m not saying that negative perceptions of black men started in the eighties. That’s obviously not true. I’m just saying that for decades, black men have been seen as potentially hostile. They have been seen as dangerous, as the other.
I’m not the girl that I was back then. I am now the mother of two black youths of my own, and I have to consider that they may also be targeted and killed for their background and their appearance. For me it was never about how sad it is for THEM, it was about how sad it is for US.
Although I am glad that people are acknowledging the existence of prejudice in our society, I can’t help but think that most people out there are doing little to prevent it from happening again and again. This is not a problem that can be solved by more troops or by violent upheaval. The problem is in the very minds of those who are blogging and talking and reading about it. The problem is one of identity.
This isn’t just about a white man killing a black man. This is about US, raising our sons to fear others based on the color of their skin. It is OUR tragedy that we look at someone’s face, black or white, male or female and think that is enough to know if they are a good person or a dangerous person. It is about not objecting when we hear people make hateful statements about others.
I am waiting for a time when people aren’t hurrying to blame THEM about how they are shooting our boys, or feeling sorry for THEM because people like that are mistreated in our society. This isn’t a story about THEM and THIER problems it is about US and OUR problems, and until we can admit that shootings like this effect ALL OF US, we will never be able to stop them.