I've been living in this country for nearly 10 years now. I love living in NYC. I finally got my green card 3 years ago and in a few more years I plan on becoming a citizen so that I can vote. I do love many things about this country… If I didn’t I wouldn’t be here. But I don’t love everything. And there are some things that I won’t ever understand, no matter how long I live here. I was brought up to believe in the human race as a enormous group of people all living on the same planet, all the same, yet all different. I was brought up to believe in equality of all men and women, regardless of nationality, skin colour, religion, gender or sexual orientation. I was also brought up with the belief that if something went against these beliefs then one should stand up and speak one’s mind.
I don’t understand how a country can, on the one hand, proclaim to be the leader of democracy and the free world, and on the other refuse to acknowledge the centuries-deep roots of racism and segregation that it sweeps under the carpet on a regular basis. I don’t understand how a few decades are supposed to whitewash the deep scars and open wounds that segregation left on this nation. I just don’t understand how one human being can judge another human being because of the colour of their skin. It has always been beyond my comprehension. I’ve been shocked many times by racial slurs that come out of people’s mouths, without them even realizing what they are saying. I’ve been shocked at how deeply entrenched it is in this country, how “normal” it is. As a woman I will always understand what it is like to be scared while walking alone on the streets at night. At the same time I will never understand what it is like to be scared to be picked up by the police because “I look like someone who could have committed a crime”. While I look to the police as protection, my neighbour, or coworker, or friend, may run away from them in fear of their lives, when they shouldn’t have anything to fear. While there have been times when I have been told I cannot do something because I am a woman, I have never experienced prejudice because of my skin colour. I can't say I understand what it feels like, because I don't. But I can say that I don't understand why racism and prejudice exist and I will always fight for the existence of real equality.
I do not understand why over the past couple of months two men (out of how many others??) have been killed by police officers. On top of that, I do not understand how these deaths have basicalliy been legitimized by the authorities. I ask myself if the police officers would have been made to stand on trial if the victims had been white… And then I ask myself, would there even be victims if they had been white? Would they have been shot or choked if they had been born with a different skin colour? We have gone way beyond the point of wondering whether Michael Brown and Eric Garner should or should not have been arrested. We shouldn’t even be stipulating on what they may or may not have done in their pasts. There shouldn’t be any more questioning on the reason they found themselves in the situation that killed them. What we should be questioning is why on earth the police officers who killed them are not standing on trial for what they did. And while the grand jury wasn’t able to find enough evidence to say that Michael Brown was murdered, what on earth were they doing when they watched the video of Eric Garner being choked to death?! It disgusts me. It disgusts me that this happened and that the police officers responsible are not going to be held accountable for their actions. It disgusts me that in this day and age there is still such a horrendous divide in our society. It disgusts me that a jury will not be able to decide whether the deaths should be punished or not.
I’ve seen people take the hash tag #BlackLivesMatter, and change it to #AllLivesMatter. Yes, of course all lives matter, but that is not the point here. I would try to explain it myself, but my friend Cali Green worded it so poignantly on Facebook the other day that I shall quote her as it deserves to be read and read again and again:
“If you are one of the people who feels COMPELLED to comment "ALL lives matter!" when you see or hear the phrase "black lives matter," I request that you stop. You don't get it.
The statement isn't "black lives matter MORE THAN [insert other race here]..." It's that our lives matter. Period. The Civil Rights Movement began to swell only 60 years ago. The Voting Rights Act and the end of Jim Crow laws happened only 50 years ago. FIFTY. Most of us have relatives who lived through these experiences. We are not far removed from the era in which the "system" we're being asked to trust could legally tell black children "you aren't worthy of being educated in the same schools as white children."
You also don't get to tell me "it's in the past" when I grew up seeing it in the faces of my parents and grandparents. Hearing hurt in their voices. Seeing my father's tears and pain over being a 6-year-old boy in Arkansas who was unable to protect his 4-year-old baby brother from being kicked down the street by a white man because he used the WRONG BATHROOM. It was 1954 and my uncle was a 4-year-old child who couldn't even read the "whites only" sign. So how dare anyone part their lips or place their fingers on a keyboard to tell another person to "get over" centuries of systematic and institutionalized racism. You don't get it.
We began life in this country as property. Considered 3/5 of a person. Not even fully HUMAN. The only difference being the pigmentation of our skin, but still not considered a HUMAN BEING. That history doesn't magically disappear from the social consciousness in a span of 50 years.
So, yes. To everyone commenting "ALL lives matter" -- I 100% agree. But stop it. You are not adding anything even remotely meaningful to a conversation you clearly haven't tried to understand. You simply don't get it.”
I have also heard people say that if we keep talking about it, it will never go away, as if we are reopening a wound. But the whole point is that the wound never closed! If we don’t talk about it then how on earth can we ever make any changes? By closing our eyes and shutting our mouths we just end up looking the other way, and the open wound just keeps festering. Society as a whole needs to take a deep, hard look at the present and make some real progress. Progress doesn’t happen overnight and it most certainly won’t happen all by itself. I don’t know about you, but I want my child to grow up in a world where she won’t experience prejudice or inflict it on another human being. Just remember, only a few decades ago segregation was still considered “normal” in this country, slavery was only abolished in 1865, less than 150 years ago. So instead of pretending racism and prejudice don’t exist anymore, let’s talk about it at the top of our voices and put an end to it, shall we?
I have read many articles on the subject in the past few months, some good, some bad, some ridiculous and some excellent. This one, posted on the awesome blog Africa is a Country this past weekend sums up perfectly what needs to be said. It hits hard, but truthfully. #BlackLivesMatter: America’s Racial Degeneracy and Cowardice by Sean Jacobs. Please read.