This post is a record, snapshot of a question or thought nagging me today. It won’t get published in print and hidden in a monastery while the world burns like some famous political treatise. But it will be floating on the web, hopefully reaching the few people that read this blog – enough to survive on in someone’s thoughts.
I’m dreading the moment when not a single person in this country, and perhaps the world, will be able to escape the carnage of a war that’s been slow-burning for centuries. The average person wakes up scared and confused. Those that don’t, quickly feel the societal stressors pull them to that 2020 state of mind.
I work remotely now, but I’m not sure I’ll ever see my office desk again. My wife, she’s working from home, but her start date seems to be changing every week – getting further and further away. We live comfortably in a repurposed 1800’s mill, we have toilet paper, food, and we can make weekly trips to the grocery store or to a park with our dog. We don’t consider ourselves the most successful and wealthy people, but living in a gentrified part of a working-class small-city makes you feel that way.
I’m a white Puerto Rican with enough white privilege to not get stopped by the police regularly, but with enough Rodriguez to get “detained” if I even think of questioning a cop’s authority – which happened. I live in the liberal state of Massachusetts but in one of its poorest cities. My interactions with the MA police terrified me, and I’ve been scared of law enforcement ever since. The videos from protesters and people across the US documenting their interaction with police, continue to validate my fear.
I’m not going to make you read a paragraph describing why the events of 2020 are another link in a chain of events that have been exploding for centuries. You can read about that on your own. What I want is for you to take a moment to question your motives for caring about what’s happening. Take a deep breath, a breath you may take for granted, and think about some scenarios that may actually be looming in your horizon.
In liberal states, like Massachusetts, white people join Black Lives Matter protests, they sign petitions, they donate, and they argue with conservative relatives about political issues. For some, they think that’s enough. They can come back to their houses and live in relative tranquility. In more conservative states, like Tennessee, people get harassed in Black Lives Matters protests, get bullied for signing petitions online, laughed at for donating, and berated by the community for not being patriotic enough to support the president. Nobody can escape the conservative world in states like Tennessee, even in your own home. In a way, it’s safer to join the predominant ideology of your state, and your own political view may be skewed by that dynamic.
Nobody would fault you for doing what you have to do to survive in this world. Sometimes we stay quiet so the Neo-Nazi won’t bash our head on the pavement or pretend to care about immigrants to not appear insensitive. However, those two situations aren’t the same. Being scared into conservatism isn’t the same as being shamed into liberalism. In one instance, your life (in some cases literally) is hostage to an ideology, while on the other, your sense of societal pride is being threatened. So, in one, the day to day life is being affected by what you believe, while in the other, your place in the world is being affected by what you believe.
In conservative states, minorities and people of color are being discriminated against and killed by day-to-day racism and individual racists. In liberal states, minorities and people of color are being discriminated against and killed by societal racism that enforces strict, almost caste-like, rules of where you fit in the world. Right now, these worlds are colliding. The day-to-day racism is threatening the institutionalized racism because of the hyperconnected world we live in. Every recorded video of a black man being killed by police or every picture of little Salvadorian girls crying at the border brings out the individual racists -everywhere in the US – who are willing to defend their place in the world at all costs.
So, this takes us back to the question, why are you caring about the events unfolding in Minnesota and across the US? If you are focusing on the violence and looting, and not in the public murder of a black man by police, then you may already consider yourself a proud racist. So, your motivation is clear, you think it’s them or me. Each of you has a unique circumstance that brought you to this ideology, but they all end in the individual. It’s literally impossible to argue with you, and trying is a fool’s errands.
I want to spend a little more time on the other side of the coin. If you care about what’s happening because you don’t want to lose your privileged position in the artificial moral high ground created by a system of institutionalized racism, then you may be a racist too. The problem is that right now, that’s not obvious. In fact, to make a meaningful change, we need people to care because invisibility is killing communities like the Native Americans. We need everyone to raise awareness, to post on social media, to attend protests, to donate, etc. So right now, regardless of why you care, it’s good that you do.
So why am I saying that you may be racist? You don’t like being called a racist, and neither do I. All the things you’re doing, that’s not racist. Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to stop. However, think about this, when you walk down an empty street, and you see a tall black man, in your mind, you think he could be a mugger. You rationalize the thought, start to question why you automatically think he would be a mugger. So you settle on “potential mugger” and cross to the other side of the street. You weren’t racist, you were careful, it didn’t matter what race, I mean you didn’t say he was a mugger, and you didn’t call the police on him.
However, what if a cop passed by and asked you if he was a mugger? You’d probably say, “I don’t know, maybe,” since you didn’t talk to him. What if the black man ran at you, out of breath, asking for your help, would you help them? Or would you pepper spray them, or call for help? Be honest. Because right now, you’re arguing with this line of questioning. You’re bringing it back to the individual scenario, telling yourself that you don’t know the specifics of the situation, your state of mind, context, etc. to say for sure you’d act that way. You may even say, I would NEVER do that, I would help the black man.
In those situations, your reactions are conditional and could vary. You really don’t know for sure how you’d react. You have the benefit of having options. For the black man, if he’s not a mugger, he has to consciously alter his demeanor to satisfy the necessary conditions for you, the privileged person, to choose the option that doesn’t get him killed by police. If he is indeed a mugger, he also has to consciously alter his way of doing things to be intimidating enough to push you, the privileged person, to fear him enough to get what he wants. The good and the bad black man are at the mercy of the privileged person who gets to choose how they can react to any given situation.
I’m sure you’re already taking offense to this, and the first thing you’re thinking is who this motherfucker is telling me I’m racist. In which case, you’re defaulting to defending your position in the “moral caste” of modern US political thought. You will refuse to continue with this thought experiment because you are now determined to use every advantage you have to keep your moral high ground. You will ask me what have “YOU” done to help the Black Lives Matter movement, have “YOU” donated to the bail bond funds? If that doesn’t satisfy you, then you’ll say “WHAT” qualifies you as an expert? Did you go to “HARVARD” to study racial inequality? Whether I answer in earnest or lie, the outcome will be the same. I’m not qualified, and my thought is entirely irrelevant.
If, by some miracle, you’re unable to regain that moral high ground, you will immediately victimize yourself. First thing you’ll say, “but what can I do?” “If this is not enough, what can I do to not be a racist anymore?” If I tell you, give up your job, your house, your money, to a black family in need. You’d say, that’s not fair. Which is true. You’ll be angry, disheartened, and in a snap, you’ll just dismiss me as too much. You’ll move on to someone less confrontational, less demanding, less judgmental. Someone that believes in the “human family.”
Honestly, I have some internalized racism that just won’t go away. Even though I experience discrimination as a Puerto Rican. If they ask what I have done to help the Black Lives Matter Movement, I would say not much besides social media. Sure, I donated a bit, support them, but I didn’t go out there to protest. I’m scared to get out of my house because of COVID-19, so I’m not really brave enough to risk it so that people will see me with a sign on the street. The way you choose or not choose to help the movement doesn’t address that internalized racism. The problem is some people think it does.
As I’ve tried to make clear in this piece, helping the movement, supporting change, all that is good. Please don’t stop. But examine why you’re helping, and bring out that inner racist so it can learn. You need to confront those biases, on your own, not with minorities or people of color, and make choices early. Right now, most of you have the option, and the privilege to stay on the sidelines. You’re not being confronted by this chaos every day of your life; it doesn’t affect what’s going to happen to you tomorrow. This collision that’s happening will change that soon. For some, it may already be changing. You will be asked to pick a side in this battle, and whatever you chose will follow you forever.
When it matters, do the opposite of what your inner racist tells you. One day you may find yourself walking down the street, and the police pick up a random black man from the sidewalk. They might confront you, ask you if this man was threatening you? They may ask if he’s an Antifa terrorist. You may get scared and tell them, “I don’t know.” That’s the choice you made that put you a side. They take him to a van and kill him. You’ll have to live with your racist decision. Alternatively, you say to the cops that he’s your brother. That’s another choice, and they might just take you too. Maybe they don’t, but they keep an eye on you because you’re now on a side. Who knows if by then, the police will be so much like the Gestapo, that the only way you get out alive is if you fight them and run?
Please do the right thing when it matters. Don’t think all your good deeds accumulate and will be enough to balance your future bad decisions. Maybe I’m wrong, and things won’t get that bad. I just can’t get this out of my mind.
By – Wilfredo Rodriguez