The Burden of Truth

Berkeley demonstrators

This period of protest and national dialogue should make me feel hopeful but, so far, it makes me more despairing. It reminds me of the racism my son, Gabe, has endured over the years in our “liberal” Bay Area community. It reminds me of the anger I feel for the times I have tried to talk about racial issues and gotten the message that I should move on. It reminds me of the shame I feel for the times I could have done something and didn’t.

And while it’s encouraging to see what’s happening in the streets, it’s frustrating to see what is happening in politer company. I see people of privilege using hope to avoid what is too painful to talk about, to avoid a deeper understanding of the trauma caused by the ongoing hate, to acknowledge that the people who are most able to do something are doing almost nothing.

I see ignorance among the educated, like the member of Congress who thought he was being fair-minded by saying Juneteenth is “important to the black community.” (Hint: Freedom is important to all Americans). And Joe Biden saying he won’t “defund” policing without even acknowledging what that might mean. (Hint: it doesn’t mean eliminating policing).

I see calls for social justice from people who have done little or nothing to support it, leveraging the moment for their political advantage or to feel better about themselves. Does Nancy Pelosi think she is going full solidarity by wearing kente cloth — which is from Ghana — to send a message to people who are 10th generation Americans? Does she think homicidal policing started last month?

It doesn’t take courage to agree with most of the civilized world about the topic at hand. It will take courage to keep it up after the protests are over and we pivot to the next crisis, and it seems a few are on the horizon. How many of us are going to live what we now say we believe? How many of the privileged will instead go back to referring to our neighbors as “them” and trivializing other people’s pain?

And maybe it doesn’t matter because racism is more than how individuals treat each other, and ending it will require more than individual acts. That’s because racism is embedded in how the system works for some and not for others. It’s our economy, our educational system, our justice system, the way we treat the planet, our health care system, our national obsession with money and guns and wars. Until these things change, racism will remain. If we treat bad policing as the problem and not the symptom, we will have again squandered our values and our resources, and we’ll remain in the moral equivalent of hell.

Gabe played this song for me yesterday, and reminded me that it’s even more relevant today than when it was produced in 2003.

 

 

12 comments

  1. Thank you for this. Having worked in the criminal justice system all of my adult life, it is both stunning and puzzling to me that so many white people have just woken up to the harsh realities of racism in this country. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad it is happening. I just wonder where everyone has been all these years and will it be only transitory.

    1. Hi Jan, I think we are learning it is easier for the privileged to assume everyone else is ok — sure, there are a few problems for some people — but mostly, we tell ourselves everyone has the same shot at a meaningful life while in fact we feel powerless. Thank you for your comments.

  2. Another thoughtful piece. I feel your despair. It’s hard to know what to do sometimes, when people of supposed intelligence aren’t taking the time to even look up “defunding” in the dictionary. It means withdrawing funding, not eliminating funding, and reallocation of that money from militarization and punishment to other human services. I will join protests, I will try to correct and advise white people who stupidly believe they have no special privilege just because they work hard, and say “all lives matter.” I don’t know if I change anyone’s mind, but how else will anyone learn if we don’t say something?

    1. Thank you Catherine. I think what you will do matters even if it doesn’t change any one else’s thinking. At this point, we just need to do what we think is right and be able to look back on this time of our lives and be able to say “Maybe I couldn’t do much but I did what I could.”
      Big hugs.

  3. Oh, Kim, I’ve been waiting for this post from you — your brave truth, so beautifully told, your heartfelt perspective. I, too, have experienced the cool reaction from “politer company,” for my current blog post on the intransigence of white supremacy. Seems “polite” people only want to read about hope, then quickly turn the page, then make tea. On the off-chance your readers might want to read my p.o.v., here’s the link: http://www.bonnieleeblack.com/blog/kings-of-their-mountains/ .

  4. Thank you Bonnie. It took me too long to say what was on my mind because I wondered how my feelings would change. But they really haven’t so far. I am looking forward to a better America. Love your blog posting and thank you for including the link. Besos….

  5. Thanks for your openness and honesty in talking about racism in America. Those who benefit from a system will not give it up without a struggle or until the system collapses upon them. If we don’t change this all-encompassing system that governs our lives, the climate and ecological crises underway across our planet will make it obsolete.

    1. As a writer, you will understand this. I waited a long time to share my thoughts because I didn’t want to just be negative and I wasn’t sure I had anything special to add to the dialogue (and maybe I don’t). But then I heard a young woman speaking on NPR with such power and conviction — and I came home and wrote this down. She put the wind in my sails!

  6. Well, for some reason my comment made when this first came out either never appeared or disappeared. Maybe I pushed the wrong button or failed to push the right button.

    Anyhow, I agree with most everything in this well written post Kim. I am hopeful, if not confident, that young people today will pick up the torch that has been lit anew and carry it forward far further than my generation was able to achieve. As for me personally, I am learning more and more about my latent biases and discovering again how challenging it is to have thoughtful, reflective and constructive conversations on these difficult issues of racism, and social and economic justice.

    BTW, I particularly was struck by the graphic of the three kids watching the ballgame. I posted it on FB and got lots of positive reactions. Sometimes a picture truly is worth a thousand words.

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