This has been a faith-shattering week. The aggressions have been major and overwhelming. Another murdered black man in Louisiana. Another murdered black man in Minnesota. Another peaceful protest turned into a bloody slaughter—this time of police officers: 5 dead, 2 injured, as well as 2 civilians injured.
What has led up to this? Well, in the week preceding the murders in Dallas, there was quite a bit of everyday bloodshed:
- July 6: Philando Castile in Minnesota
- July 5: Alton Sterling in Louisiana
- July 4: Delrawn Small in New York
- July 2: Jai Williams in North Carolina
- June 30:Kawme Patrick in Ohio
And these are just the black men killed by police in the week of June 30 – July 6. The Guardian reports that 24 men and women were killed by officers during these 7 days.
Yeah, yeah: many more whites are killed than blacks. But when you factor in those killed per million, then you see that the ratio of black-skinned citizens to white-skinned citizens is more than double:
- 3.40 Native American
- 3.25 Black
- 1.59 Hispanic/Latino
- 1.41 White
- 0.56 Asian/Pacific Islander
And if you're anyone whose skin isn't white, you're nearly six times as likely to be killed by a police officer than a white person.
How have things gotten this bad? I used the phrase "faith-shattering" above not because I have faith in a god (I don't) but because I have faith in our human ability to overcome our innate destructiveness. But this week's events, playing out under the big top of our presidential campaign, makes that faith falter. I despair. Is there anything I—or any single person—can do against this flood of racial violence?
Then today a friend shared a poem with me.
Poet Claudia Rankine has made it her mission to point out the many small moments of aggression that go unchallenged—the racial slur, treating someone as if they were invisible, applauding bigots—and to challenge them. The following is from her book Citizen, an excerpt from "You are in the dark, in the car . . .":
You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.by Claudia Rankine
You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay conversation to be having.
Why do you feel okay saying this to me? You wish the light would turn red or a police siren would go off so you could slam on the brakes, slam into the car ahead of you, be propelled forward so quickly both your faces would suddenly be exposed to the wind.
As usual you drive straight through the moment with the expected backing off of what was previously said. It is not only that confrontation is headache producing; it is also that you have a destination that doesn't include acting like this moment isn't inhabitable, hasn't happened before, and the before isn't part of the now as the night darkens and the time shortens between where we are and where we are going.
- There was that time you went to a new dentist, and he was black, and you know that your eyes immediately registered surprise. And you saw that he saw it.
- There was a time when you told a joke that was disrespectful of Native Americans.
- There was a time when you were rear-ended by a Mexican and before you could stop it, the thought flashed through your mind: oh god, I hope he's insured.
So I think this is what I can do: I can resist the urge to "drive straight through the moment with the expected backing off of what was previously said." I can slow down and contemplate "where we are and where we are going." And I can choose to change direction.
So can you. Take the bull--you know what I mean--by the horns.