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Do small moments of micro-aggression build to mass murder?

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 . . .":

Poet Claudia Rankine; photo by John Lucas

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.

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.


by Claudia Rankine
Time indeed "shortens between where we are and where we are going," and each of us better step on the brake to slow things down.

Taking a lesson from Ms. Rankine, the next time you hear someone express a racial slur, stand firm and ask, "Why do you feel okay saying that to me?"

Just try it. Stay calm. Be firm. Keep your voice level.

If the other person sneers or attacks verbally, you can conclude the confrontation by saying, "It's not okay to say that to me. I want you to know that. Goodbye."

If you think they might listen to your views, take it one step further: "Your complaint about being obliged to hire a minority insinuates that a person of color would underperform and be of lesser value than a white person. Is that how you really feel?"

If they back-peddle, retract the statement, try to explain that of course they are not prejudiced, you can point out that many reasonable people would hear their comment the way you have. Tell them that words matter. Ask them to articulate their thoughts more carefully.

And if you're really brave, admit that you, too, have had to examine your own values. You, too, have let racial stereotypes enter into your thoughts and words.
  • 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.

What might Dred say?
I'm discouraged

Comments 6

 
Guest - Jeannette Gagan on Sunday, 10 July 2016 17:14

Mary, thank you so much for this article--the research you've done and extremely helpful ponderings. It behooves each and every one of us to slow down and reflect on our thoughts and actions regarding what is occurring in this country. The power of one person reaching out to a person of another race in a kind and caring way cannot be overestimated.

Mary, thank you so much for this article--the research you've done and extremely helpful ponderings. It behooves each and every one of us to slow down and reflect on our thoughts and actions regarding what is occurring in this country. The power of one person reaching out to a person of another race in a kind and caring way cannot be overestimated.
Mary Neighbour on Sunday, 10 July 2016 17:53

Jeannette, I so appreciate your attention and contribution to these blogs. Your words, "in a kind and caring way," deserve to be highlighted, as I think the tone I set in the blog was more judgmental. Thank you for the kind and caring reminder.

Jeannette, I so appreciate your attention and contribution to these blogs. Your words, "in a kind and caring way," deserve to be highlighted, as I think the tone I set in the blog was more judgmental. Thank you for the kind and caring reminder.
Guest - Maxine Neely Davenport on Sunday, 10 July 2016 18:03

IT IS APPROPRIATE THAT THE WORLD IS HORRIFIED AT THE KILLING OF POLICEMEN. THANK GOODNESS WE NOW HAVE SOCIAL MEDIA TO PUT IT IN FRONT OF OUR EYES, AND IT TOOK THOSE SHOCKING PICTURES TO WAKE UP THE NATION. KILLING OF POLICEMEN WASN'T CAUSED BY BLACK LIVES MATTERS. THEY HAD EVERY RIGHT TO PROTEST AND THEY WERE DOING IT PEACEFULLY. THE BLAME PROPERLY BELONGS ON THE NRA AND LEGISLATORS WHO REFUSE TO SUPPORT GUN CONTROL, AND ON EVERYONE WHO VOTES FOR THEM.

IT IS APPROPRIATE THAT THE WORLD IS HORRIFIED AT THE KILLING OF POLICEMEN. THANK GOODNESS WE NOW HAVE SOCIAL MEDIA TO PUT IT IN FRONT OF OUR EYES, AND IT TOOK THOSE SHOCKING PICTURES TO WAKE UP THE NATION. KILLING OF POLICEMEN WASN'T CAUSED BY BLACK LIVES MATTERS. THEY HAD EVERY RIGHT TO PROTEST AND THEY WERE DOING IT PEACEFULLY. THE BLAME PROPERLY BELONGS ON THE NRA AND LEGISLATORS WHO REFUSE TO SUPPORT GUN CONTROL, AND ON EVERYONE WHO VOTES FOR THEM.
Mary Neighbour on Sunday, 10 July 2016 18:33

Welcome back, Maxine, and thanks for raising the point about gun control, the lack of which is a major contributing factor to this violence. In this regard, my husband has pointed out that the NRA argument that we all need to be armed--i.e., that "good guys" with guns are the only deterrent to "bad guys" with guns--is also proved false in this situation. Dallas has liberal gun-carry laws, and it's very likely civilians at this protest were armed. But no one stopped this murderer, including the police, with a gun. It took a robot and a bomb.
. . . and this of course leads us to a discussion of how we don't take care of those in our society who have mental/emotional problems, as it is being revealed that Micah Johnson was one.

Welcome back, Maxine, and thanks for raising the point about gun control, the lack of which is a major contributing factor to this violence. In this regard, my husband has pointed out that the NRA argument that we all need to be armed--i.e., that "good guys" with guns are the only deterrent to "bad guys" with guns--is also proved false in this situation. Dallas has liberal gun-carry laws, and it's very likely civilians at this protest were armed. But no one stopped this murderer, including the police, with a gun. It took a robot and a bomb. . . . and this of course leads us to a discussion of how we don't take care of those in our society who have mental/emotional problems, as it is being revealed that Micah Johnson was one.
Lloyd Carter on Monday, 11 July 2016 18:06

Thank you, Mary, for once again sharing your wise and inspiring words on your Speak Right On blog. The poem by Claudia Rankine and your gentle call to think about these important issues has had a strong affect on me. To your admonitions to “Slow Down” and to ask “Why Do You Feel Okay Saying That To Me?”, I personally would add “Give Attention.” To often these days we are all busy with complicated lives to “Give Attention, Slow Down, and Speak Right On.”

Depending on circumstances, I would also offer an alternative of simply using an “I” statement instead of asking a question, such as:

“What You Are Saying Is Offensive To Me As A Human Being.

I wish you no harm but I choose to leave your presence.”

Maybe we should all follow angry bloggers and inundate them with this or similar statements!!!!!

Inspired by your blog, I have decided to print out mini-copies of The Metta Prayer to carry with me to give out if the occasion arises. I believe the prayer itself is Buddhist in origin. I love it for the total inclusivity of its message.



The Metta Prayer

“May all beings be well and safe, may they be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be, whether moving or
standing sill, without exception, whether large, great,
middling, or small, whether tiny or substantial,
Whether seen or unseen, whether living near or far,
Born or unborn; may all beings be happy.
Let none deceive or despise another anywhere.
Let none wish hard to another, in anger or in hate.”

Thank you again, Mary, for your wonderful blog, and the intelligence and sensitivity that is its source.

Thank you, Mary, for once again sharing your wise and inspiring words on your Speak Right On blog. The poem by Claudia Rankine and your gentle call to think about these important issues has had a strong affect on me. To your admonitions to “Slow Down” and to ask “Why Do You Feel Okay Saying That To Me?”, I personally would add “Give Attention.” To often these days we are all busy with complicated lives to “Give Attention, Slow Down, and Speak Right On.” Depending on circumstances, I would also offer an alternative of simply using an “I” statement instead of asking a question, such as: “What You Are Saying Is Offensive To Me As A Human Being. I wish you no harm but I choose to leave your presence.” Maybe we should all follow angry bloggers and inundate them with this or similar statements!!!!! Inspired by your blog, I have decided to print out mini-copies of The Metta Prayer to carry with me to give out if the occasion arises. I believe the prayer itself is Buddhist in origin. I love it for the total inclusivity of its message. The Metta Prayer “May all beings be well and safe, may they be at ease. Whatever living beings there may be, whether moving or standing sill, without exception, whether large, great, middling, or small, whether tiny or substantial, Whether seen or unseen, whether living near or far, Born or unborn; may all beings be happy. Let none deceive or despise another anywhere. Let none wish hard to another, in anger or in hate.” Thank you again, Mary, for your wonderful blog, and the intelligence and sensitivity that is its source.
Mary Neighbour on Monday, 11 July 2016 21:12

Thanks, Lloyd, for "giving attention." I really like the phrase you wrote: I wish you no harm . . . Like the physician's oath, starting out by not causing harm is something we could strive for.

As you know, in these polarized times, it's difficult to make an affirmative statement without someone feeling that you have negated something else. "Black lives matter" doesn't mean white lives don't matter. "We need gun control" doesn't mean "take away everyone's guns". And so on. Conversations like this help a great deal, I believe. Thanks for joining in.

The prayer is lovely.

Thanks, Lloyd, for "giving attention." I really like the phrase you wrote: [i]I wish you no harm . . .[/i] Like the physician's oath, starting out by not causing harm is something we could strive for. As you know, in these polarized times, it's difficult to make an affirmative statement without someone feeling that you have negated something else. "Black lives matter" doesn't mean white lives don't matter. "We need gun control" doesn't mean "take away everyone's guns". And so on. Conversations like this help a great deal, I believe. Thanks for joining in. The prayer is lovely.
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