An ad for a movie came on while my youngest daughter and I were watching TV last night. “That looks fun,” I said.
“Yeah, too bad we can’t watch it.”
“Why? It’s on demand?” I said.
“It’s been whitewashed,” she said.
“It’s been what?” I asked, not because I didn’t know what it meant so much as I was surprised that it was a word she used.
“Whitewashed. They cast famous white actors in roles that should have been played by people of color,” she said.
I’d like to take credit for this. But I can’t take credit for a daughter who spends so much of her time out in a world that wasn’t available to me at her age. Through tumblr and other social media, two sisters and an outspoken group of friends, this kid is much more aware of race and gender politics than I would be until I was, I don’t know, 50?
My daughters would have been Michael Brown’s generation, had he lived.
Yesterday, I saw a meme go by in my newsfeed that compared the noise being made about a black criminal (the meme’s words, not mine) and a black man kills two white people on-air and nothing happens. A white friend posted it. They got several likes. I thought to comment, but didn’t. Walked away and did the work required of me that day. But the meme stayed with me. My feelings of dissatisfaction about walking away nagged at me all day and all night. So, here it is, again and again and again, until it doesn’t need to be said anymore:
Dear White Friends,
The uprising known as #BlackLivesMatter happened because, thanks to social media, cell phone cameras and not one police shooting of an unarmed black man, but innumerable instances that ended black lives at the hands of police officers. Police officers have one of the hardest jobs and the Black Lives Matter movement is not a condemnation of individual police officers or the work they are called to do. It is a condemnation of a political and justice system that values white as the “norm” and black as dangerous. You can’t argue, without contorting yourself into some strange and demented monster, that the shooting of Tamir Rice was justified. And that shooting, so close on the heels of the shooting of Michael Brown, who lay dead, bleeding and uncovered in view of his family for four hours, kept this movement going, as have all the senseless shootings of unarmed black men and women happening on a daily basis.
Our history has been whitewashed, too, dear friends. We believe that our experience is the norm, that because we can live lives of relative peace and be pulled over without being shot, that our Black (and Brown and Native) fellow citizens must be doing something to trigger the events that killed them. But this world is not fair. Our system of government, our system of governance, our systems of justice, have failed to provide safeguards that require us to all be treated fairly and given the same opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Life. Dear friends.
That is what this movement is about. About preserving the right to life in America. It should not be taken away because a man is selling loose cigarettes, jaywalking, carrying a bb-gun he intends to purchase in a big box store. And there is no excuse for the taking of the life of a child playing (as children do) in a park.
My friends, I love you, and it is through this love that I beg of you to please stop and think before you say “All Lives Matter,” or share memes that denigrate the movement thinking that there is some false parity between what happened to those news reporters and what is happening to black, brown and native peoples across this country in 2015. Please look beyond the whitewash and give yourself the gift of perspective.
This movement is disruptive, as it needs to be. It is disrupting our understanding of the legend of America: that it is fair, just and free. Which it is, for the most part, for us white folk. But our experience is rooted in the history written by the victors, the conquerors, the slave owners as well as the abolitionists (many of whom thought slavery was wrong, but also believed that Africans didn’t have the intellectual capacity of the white men who ruled us all for so very, very long).
I ask you to think and read and wonder. Pick up a book by an African American (anything by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker –I’m showing my age here–or Ta-Nehisi Coates, you can start here). Wonder how your life would be different if you were born black in America in 1950, 1960, 1980, 2000? Think about what you can do to grow your compassion and understanding for people who live next door to you but in a whole different country.
God gave us brains, compassion, and imagination and I invite you to use them all and ask yourself this very singular and important question: what do you want for this country in these times? What do you want for your family, your community, your country?
Because if what you want is peace, prosperity and freedom, then you need to work for it for everyone of every race in this country. There’s no way to whitewash that truth. I wouldn’t even if I could.
Go in love, dear friends, go in love.