“We are definitely not living in a post-racial society and I can imagine there are a lot of people out there wondering how much of a society we’re living in at all.”
noun \sə-ˈsī-ə-tē\: people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values
In light of recent events, mainly cops literally getting away with murder, I find myself thinking about society. The society I live in, if it is in fact a society. In the above definition we see that a society has shared laws, traditions, and values. However acquittal of murdering cops shows that we clearly don’t all have to follow the same laws. The fact that the vast majority of grand jury indictments find that a trial is necessary, except in the case of cops, who are almost never indicted, shows that our traditions are questionable. People feeling the need to criticize those who say “Black lives matter,” defending the actions of dirty cops, and trying to play blame the victim in every situation, including the murder of a 12 year old boy, highlights that we do not have shared values.
What we actually have are two or more separate societies, each one having their own rules, traditions and values. Some people, like myself, have privilege that allows them to pick or move between societies to a degree. I have decided that black lives matter. I have decided that it is probably not alright to kill people for being black. Aside from the lives of people I actually know and care about, I have decided to value all lives equally.
However, I can’t opt out of some of my privilege. I get to live by a different set of rules because I am white. I am still female, and not wealthy or important, so I don’t get the special fancy platinum level privilege. I’m not a cop, working hard to make sure that each separate society follows their own set of rules, so I can’t, for example, choke someone to death anytime I want.
However I can get away with a lot of things. I would like to draw your attention to #crimingwhilewhite.
I will give one of my own personal examples here. I was once in a diner, something like a Waffle House. I swung on my boyfriend’s coat, forgetting that there was a bag of weed and a glass pipe in the pocket. Both flew out of the pocket, and the pipe shattered on the floor. Everyone in the restaurant turned to look, including a cop sitting at the counter. He watched me snatch up the bag of weed; he looked at the remains of what was clearly a pipe. He chuckled and returned to his breakfast. A waitress brought a broom and we cleaned up the mess. That’s the whole story.
It was that day I actually realized that laws don’t apply to everyone the same way. It was then and is now illegal to use or possess marijuana in Georgia. But as far as that cop and everyone else in that diner was concerned, it was not illegal for me.
I have broken into private pools at night to swim. I have shoplifted, engaged in underage drinking, used drugs, been rude to cops, loitered, walked in the middle of the street, played in public fountains, peed in public, committed vandalism, and snuck into movies. Those are just the crimes off the top of my head; I am sure there are more. Yet I don’t feel like I have done anything for which I deserve to be shot or choked to death. Maybe some community service is in order? A fine?
Killing me is probably illegal, even if you are a cop. But somehow our larger society has decided that black men are worthless, and that they don’t matter. The young man who lives next door to me could be killed if he engaged in any of my crimes. He has to prove himself every day, prove why he deserves life. When I have gone to protests over police brutality, I get sick to my stomach every time a black man or woman starts listing out why they deserve to live. I have never, ever had to do that. I am deemed worthy just by the shade of my skin. It is appalling to me that the society they are forced into requires that of them.
I want you to really think about this. Think about the victim-blaming that the media has engaged in with all these cases. When you are black, one strike against you is all it takes for any punishment, including death, to be justified. Even if the cop who killed you didn’t know about the law you broke. Mike Brown had marijuana in his system — STRIKE! — his death was OK. Eric Garner was selling tax free cigarettes, and he was back-talking a white cop — STRIKE! — not a person. Here is the best one, Tamir Rice, well ummm…he had a gun, but it was a toy, no rule broken, hummm… he was threatening to the cops… no, that can’t be it, as he was shot immediately upon the arrival of the cops… Ohhh! I got it, his father, his father is a thug and he had had domestic violence charges before, and we all know that thugness is hereditary, so he would most likely have grown up to be violent, yeah, that’s it. He was going to be a horrible, horrible monster, so let’s say — FUTURE STRIKE — probably not a person.
A society values certain behaviors, and certain virtues. We are a Protestant, Puritan sort of people, so we think the perfect person should be:
For white people, just hit a few and you will be ok. I am smart, educated, sometimes clean, and well-spoken. The fact that I am sometimes rude, lazy, and irresponsible are not really problems. In fact my flaws make me somehow more likeable.
But if you are black you have to have them all, and you have to show them all, all of the time. Being deficient in any of these areas makes you unworthy of such basic things as life, food, medical attention, and respect. We even have special words for black people who don’t exemplify these virtues, like thug and welfare queen. Food for thought, I have personally heard the word “nigger” used as an antonym for all of these words. It can mean stupid, uneducated, dirty, incomprehensible, rude, wasteful, irresponsible and lazy. What a weird coincidence….
In America today some people’s lives are worth more than others. Some groups of people can kill with impunity. Laws and social rules don’t apply to all of us equally. I am going to have to conclude that we have a caste system, not a fair, equitable society. We might not acknowledge it, we might pretend that everyone is free to make their own choices and move up the social ladder, but it is a lie. Decades of statistics prove that you don’t get to move up in the caste system; if you start poor you generally die poor. If you start black there is very little you can do to change the social stigma that you are born with.
All the underdog stories, where the kid from the wrong side of the tracks makes it big due to hard work and perseverance are mostly fairy tales, in that such a tiny number of people manage it. They exist to keep up hoping, striving, working, and blaming people who don’t pull themselves up for being deficient.
We tell these stories of success and worth for the same reason we blame Trayvon, Mike, Eric and Tamir for their own murders. We have to believe in achievable standards and rules, with reasonable rewards and punishments. We have to believe in choice and free will. We have to pretend the cops are good guys and black people, immigrants, and poor people are bad guys. Because if we stopped believing in these things we would have to realize that aside from a few wealthy, powerful people, we are all pretty much powerless. As long as you can convince yourself that you are a good person, worthy, playing by the rules, then you can ignore the murder, imprisonment, and slavery of others. At least for a little while longer.