Pressing Pause On A ‘National Conversation On Race’

Everyday brings more examples. People regularly write, speak, and/or behave in ways a majority of people would deem racially insensitive, if not outright racist. What should we do about that?

It seems like we’ve decided to make the consequences so severe that the racially insensitive have no choice but to suppress their racist tendencies. Dox them, ostracize them, fire them from their jobs.

Conservative Republicans, who not always, but often are racially insensitive, are quick to label this “cancel culture” which only adds to their persecution complex and makes them even more defensive on subjects of race.

Personally, at this time of heightened racial consciousness, I’m most interested in what militant black men and women are thinking. The more militant, the more I tune in.

Historically, there have been repeated calls by progressives of all colors for a “national conversation on race”. As a life-long educator, that strategy is my preferred one, but I’m not hearing militants make many, if any references to “conversation”.

Maybe that’s because conversation requires slowing down in order to address mutual defensiveness. Instead, activists are accelerating demands for long sought for changes which makes total sense given our collective attention deficit disorder. How long until the media spotlight shifts? In essence, strike now for legislative protections against state-sponsored violence; strike now for the removal of Confederate statues, flags, and related symbols; strike now to destroy white supremacy in whatever form.

As a pro-conversation educator, I’m out of step with the times. Which is okay. Just know I’ll be committed to the conversation long after the spotlight shifts.

 

Minneapolis Burns

“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.

Violent protests over Floyd death spread beyond Minneapolis.

The Death of George Floyd, in Context.

How White Women Use Themselves as Instruments of Terror.

 

 

White, Male, Runner Privilege

I can run alone, anywhere in my Pacific Northwest county, even after dark. And I do. Without thinking twice. That is the ultimate white, male, runner privilege.

Women have to consider time and place. African Americans have to consider time and place and whether to ever run alone.

I’ve never been more aware of my white, male, runner privilege than this week when the story of Ahmaud Arbery, an African American who was killed while on a run in Georgia two months ago, broke wide open. Today would have been Arbery’s 26th birthday.

Only yesterday were the father and son who stalked Arbery and then killed him arrested. And only because a video of the incident was discovered. Had there not been video, they probably would’ve gotten away with murder. And they’re not convicted yet, only arrested.

Charles Blow draws on the police report which detailed the father’s explanation for why he and his son chased Arbery:

“McMichael stated he was in his front yard and saw the suspect from the break-ins ‘hauling ass’ down Satilla Drive toward Burford Drive. McMichael stated he then ran inside his house and called to Travis (McMichael) and said, ‘Travis, the guy is running down the street, let’s go.’ McMichael stated he went to his bedroom and grabbed his .357 Magnum and Travis grabbed his shotgun because they ‘didn’t know if the male was armed or not.’”

Blow then provides needed context:

“Arbery was not armed, and he was not the ‘suspect’ in any break-ins. He was a former high school football player who liked to stay active and was jogging in the small city of Brunswick, Glynn County, Ga., near his home.

Neither of the McMichaels was arrested or charged.” 

And the ultimate context:

“Slavery was legal. The Black Codes were legal. Sundown towns were legal. Sharecropping was legal. Jim Crow was legal. Racial covenants were legal. Mass incarceration is legal. Chasing a black man or boy with your gun because you suspect him a criminal is legal. Using lethal force as an act of self-defense in a physical dispute that you provoke and could easily have avoided is, often, legal.

It is men like these, with hot heads and cold steel, these with yearnings of heroism, the vigilantes who mask vengeance as valor, who ­cross their social anxiety with racial anxiety and the two spark like battery cables.

Arbery was enjoying a nice run on a beautiful day when he began to be stalked by armed men.

What must that have felt like?”

What must that have felt like? I have no idea.

Conscience Has No Color

A flag in Vermont reminds us conscience has no color

Originally published February 4, 2018 by Leonard Pitts Jr., Syndicated columnist.

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.

Except it’s not really failure. It’s actually unwillingness to communicate, fear of what communication might mean. After all, if you communicate, you might understand some painful truths — and then where would you be?

That’s why discussing race with a white person is often one of the most vexing things an African-American person can do. You quickly come to understand that understanding is the last thing they want.

Take “Black Lives Matter.” Those words, if you are black, are both an assertion of self-evident truth and a way of saying you are sick of unarmed people like you being killed under color of authority while juries and judges shrug and look away.

That message would seem to be clear as mountain air, which, for many white Americans, is precisely what’s wrong with it. So they do everything they can not to comprehend.

They pretend confusion: “Black lives matter? Don’t all lives matter? Are you saying black lives are more important?”

They rationalize: “It’s not the cop’s fault. If the man had stopped moving/talking/breathing hard, he wouldn’t have been shot!”

They feign outrage: “Black Lives Matter is an anti-police terrorist group. They’re the black Ku Klux Klan.”

At some point, you begin wondering if the words you hear in your head are coming out in English. How is it you’re both speaking the same language, but you’re doing such a miserable job of being understood?

It’s a frustrating, exhausting experience. If you’ve ever had it, you’ll likely be touched by a recent story out of Vermont. It seems that, with the unanimous support of the school board, the Racial Justice Alliance, a student-led anti-racism group at Montpelier High, is commemorating Black History Month by flying a flag on campus. A flag that says, “Black Lives Matter.”

Lord, have mercy. Just when you think you’ve seen it all.

It’s stunning, you see, because there are no black people in Vermont.

OK, so that’s not quite true. There are some, but so few — 1.3 percent out of a population of 623,000 — that Vermont didn’t muster its first NAACP chapter until 2015. For the record, the student who founded the Racial Justice Alliance is a black senior named Joelyn Mensah. Still, we’re talking about one of the whitest states in the Union. So this flag flying at one of its schools is no small thing.

Not that everyone is pleased. State lawmaker Thomas Terenzini — you’ll be shocked to learn that he’s a Republican — told the local NBC affiliate that Black Lives Matter is “a national anti-police organization.”

That isn’t surprising. But the moral courage of these students and administrators is, pleasantly so.

We are indebted to them for a message that couldn’t be more timely. As appeals to our lowest selves flow down like sewage from the nation’s capital, they remind us that conscience has no color. It is a point proven in the past by white people like Elijah Lovejoy, William Lloyd Garrison, Andrew Goodman, James Zwerg, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland and Viola Liuzzo who fought — and sometimes died — for black freedom.

One hopes white people of today will take note. And black ones, too.

Because, for as much as that flag flying in that place speaks to the broad sweep of conscience, it also rebukes excesses of cynicism, shows what can still happen just when you think you’ve seen it all. To be black talking to white people about race is never easy. You’ll be frequently frustrated, often exhausted. But once in a while, you will also be something you never expected:

Heard.