Watching from afar the recent events in Baltimore, thinking about race in America, reminded me of this exchange I had last year with a stranger on facebook. These conversations are long and arduous and crazy-making, but we need to have them. We have to talk about it, we have to acknowledge these hard truths of our privilege and the genocide upon which it is built. We have to be better at loving and caring for all in our society.
Here’s that thread:
It was a few days after Michael Brown was killed, about a month after Eric Garner was killed.
The gentleman who initiated the exchange, let’s call him Mike, was a friend-of-a-friend. I had never met him. We were not directly connected on FB. So no prior history, knowledge, or trust between us.
Notice my hesitation to take the bait.
Ok, let’s see where this goes….
Check out how long we can go without mentioning race…
Obviously it’s what we’re thinking and talking about, given the context, but see how long we can talk in dog-whistles without using the R word?
At this point I’m still not sure I have the stomach to really get into it head-on– do I know my stuff well enough to be effective? Plus, I don’t even know this guy! — I realize looking back that I’m bending over backwards to NOT make it about race, when that’s obviously why I posted the article in the first place.
Okay, fuck it. Let’s talk about it.
Tuck in and get comfy, this is gonna take a while.
So at this point I think maybe I’ve read the introduction to Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” but not the book. So I have a sense of the argument I’m about to lay out to him, but I don’t know where my numbers are, and if I’m going to commit to trying to convince this guy, I’m going to need hard evidence.
I do have google though, and multiple tabs open on my browser….
He mentions This story.
Oh, hello “my position as defender of the status quo need no justification because it is the default position.”
At this point it’s getting hard for me to continue the conversation. I decided at the beginning that I was going to steer clear of critiquing Mike’s own way of positioning himself and just lay out the information that I wanted him to see. I felt that with no pre-existing trust between us, things like “you’re speaking from a paradigm of unexamined white-male privilege,” would be personalized and would shut down the conversation, so I’m biting my tongue like crazy trying to stick to my numbers. Was this the right thing to do? Could the conversation have been more valuable if I had the courage to point some of those things out? Or would it have gone off the rails?
I don’t know.
But I knew that my strategy was working at least inasmuch as I had him listening and taking in new information, so I stuck to it.
Was I a little cowardly? A little conflict-avoident? Sure.
But, you know I’m learning on the job.
At some point, basic human compassion does have to come into this conversation. Why care that a system brutalizes if it doesn’t brutalize you?
I’ve only ever read The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, but I thought it was a total crock of shit. Hated it. Mitch Albom level of sophistication in thinking. I’m not going to mention that to him either.
Right here, when he asks these questions, I feel like I’ve done something useful with my day. I also feel like, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink,” so…. I leave him to look into the pool, hoping that now when he sees the reflection he’ll be a little more equipped to recognize himself in the frame, and maybe take a drink.