Thursday, July 14, 2016

White Girl Talking

The news lately has swirled with stories of division, hate, fear and exclusion. From the stories that made national news in my own little town, to the stories that made national news for their heartbreaking disregard for human life, it all certainly gives way to a lot of talking.

I had a conversation with someone today about a YouTube video he had seen. In the video, an African-America.n gentleman told his story of an encounter with police that remained un-contentious (is that even a word?) and peaceful. He conveyed that the reason for this was because he was respectful and cooperative. Which, of course, is more than likely true. His tale seemed to say "If it happened to me, it can happen to you. Just behave."

Of course, in 99% of the cases, this is true. I know that most people have positive interactions with law enforcement, no matter how they feel about getting a speeding ticket or being caught without car insurance. Things almost always go a little easier when every acts like human beings.

Almost always, except when they don't. I know I'm just a White Girl Talking, but it seems offensive at best to hold up the story of one person and say "See? The cops didn't beat this guy up! You just have to know how to behave." That logic is flawed. Would one woman ever say to another "Well, jeeze! I forget to make dinner all the time and my husband doesn't beat me. You just have to know how to behave!"

Sounds asinine, right? But that's exactly the attitude conveyed when we tell people of color "Well, if you didn't talk back/have a record/resist/etc..."  Any other time, when a section of human life is marginalized, we try to do better by them. Nobody would say to a group of women, marching to being awareness to domestic violence, that "Men's lives matter, too!" Nobody would say to a group marching to prevent child abuse that "Adult lives matter, too!" I have never seen anyone standing on the sidelines at a walk for Autism yelling "Cancer matters, too!"

Yes. All lives matter. That's without a doubt. Every life is important and meaningful and necessary, no matter how much to the contrary that may seem. All of the lives matter equally. That said, it is not for anyone to look at a group that has been marginalized, that feels as though they need to raise their voice to be heard, and patently set them aside by saying "All lives matter" when they mean "...but some more than others."

Last week, the world lost a powerful voice upon the death of writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Eli Wiesel. His memoir, "Night," changed my life, as a Jew, as a writer, and as a human being. The morning that the news of his death broke, I pulled it from my bookshelf and read it cover to cover, sobbing as I took in this story that I already knew. It's a slim novel, but so powerful in its telling of what can happen when hate spills over. The way that hatred can sweep out an entire people and how the hated can change, so quickly, into people who themselves hate as a means of survival.

It seems like every time I turn the news on, there's heartbreak. The stories get worse and the casualties pile up. And in all of that rubble there are beacons of hope but, on the whole, I don't know what the answer is, or how to even begin to go about finding it. All I can do is try to keep my eyes open and my heart open, and to make sure that my son is doing the same. I hope PJ will see color and difference and celebrate it, not separate.

Nothing's what it seems, I mean
It's not all dirty, but it's not all clean 
-"Stand," Jewel

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