as i watched the protests-turned-to-riots unfold after george floyd’s murder, i grew more and more angry. i scrolled through my twitter feed, watching things happen in my homestate, my own minnesota, that i would expect in other places. as i write this, businesses have closed in precaution of possible rioting here in st. cloud (i live about 17 miles away). curfews came and went in the cities, as protesters continued to speak up for oppressed races. buildings burn. smoke fills the skies. people of all colors rage.
sometimes my preconceptions about my friends surprise myself. as my anger unfolded, i watched my facebook feed come to life in a different way than twitter (less real-time, more personal connections). i expected certain friends to say certain things. when i saw particular people like particular posts, i wasn’t surprised. and then i jolted out of my comfort zone a bit as my friend M’s absolutely livid reaction to george’s murder surfaced to the top of my feed. M continues to surprise me in ways that really shouldn’t anymore.
i drove around the cities yesterday on my way to and from a pre-planned visit to see some friends and my parents in SE minnesota, avoiding any protests that might happen on I-35. when i got close to home in my small-town, rural, very trump-country area of central MN, i called M so we could commiserate in our rage toward the MSP police, the inhumanity of this murder, the resulting protests. it was like we fueled each other; we got so riled up. the topic of the looting and fires came up, and once again my preconceptions checked themselves, because M said exactly what i’d been thinking in the back of my head but was afraid to say out loud since this started:
“let it burn.”
M is about as white and catholic as they come. i am as white but not so catholic anymore. we disagree on some politics, but i’ve watched her social stances veer toward left leaning through the years (though, as an aside, i’ve yet to convince her on the recycling front). and really, when you think about it, catholicism is all about social justice and stewardship. why more catholics don’t take that stance, i’ll never know. i could go on and on about the maleness of catholicism and how women are the bedrock, but that’s another post. this is about our whiteness.
what’s hard to put into words is the paradox of embracing your whiteness but also realizing your privilege. knowing who you are while knowing that you’ve had a step up, a step ahead, an eye turned. my family was poor growing up, but we never lived in a place where the police regularly drove the streets looking for crimes in progress. i can bet you that every white person has committed some level of crime, and because you look like the cops, they turn an eye. or they weren’t there scrutinizing your actions. what the cops don’t see, they can’t arrest. the same kinds of crimes are committed by white people, and i’d bet at close to the same rate. there is drug use, theft, abuse. there are definitely money crimes. it’s just that the cops choose not to police your neighborhood. they also choose to punish or not punish in different ways – disparate, dehumanizing ways.
we can’t say that we don’t see color, because that’s not true. and we shouldn’t NOT see color. a person’s skin color is part of who they are; it’s a part of their heritage and life experience. to say we don’t see color is to say we are ignoring a part of a person’s identity. would you want to have a piece of you ignored or brushed over?
we can’t say that we don’t stereotype, because that’s not true. people’s brains are wired to stereotype, and unfortunately, we place preconceptions based on past experiences or what society feeds us. we can’t know everyone on the planet, so we need to group people into boxes based on characteristics. the most obvious characteristics are race and gender. after that, we place people into boxes so our brains don’t have to work to the point of fizzling out. i see a young white guy in a camo hat, driving a jacked up truck with an american flag waving in the back? i assume that guy’s a trump supporter. i watch a woman wearing birkenstocks hauling groceries to her subaru in cloth bags? liberal, environmental lesbian. we all do it. our brains can’t avoid it. when you accept this part of your primitive brain, the easier it is to try to work with it and break down the preconceptions.
this afternoon, the president of the place i work at said something that actually relieved me a little bit. i’d been struggling with my feelings of anger. i was so angry at the police. so angry that this keeps happening. so angry that people are so scared of police that they feel like they can’t stop a murder from happening.
i am a run-of-the-mill white woman. i can’t possibly know what it is to be a person of color right now, and if my anger is at this level, i can’t even begin to imagine the anger and frustration a POC is feeling.
should i be this angry? can i be this angry? do i have the right to be this angry?
the president is a woman of color. she spoke briefly at a meeting i was in, and she expressed that we should ALL be angry about this. this gave me not only a sense of relief at the anger i was feeling about george’s murder, but also a sense of humanity. because of course all lives matter.
but this is not what that is about. and you know it.
“let it burn.”
the united states has a history of disruptions and revolutions. the civil war. the depression/new deal/WWII. it’s time for another, according to the book “beautiful country, burn again.” (i would recommend everyone read this book.)
i am not a person who likes confrontation. call me a typical minnesotan. i like keeping the peace. i understand why people want to keep law and order. but when the law and order start to oppress groups, there is a tipping point. i was in an international media class in grad school, and i learned that it takes 80% of the populace to be oppressed in some way shape or form for revolution to happen.
the united states is built on revolution and rebellion. you want to talk about looting? let’s talk about the boston tea party. you want to talk about rebellion? what do you think the declaration of independence is? the first amendment in and of itself is the ultimate form of rebellion and watchdog organizations. american citizens have the right to assemble, have the right to freedom of speech.
i don’t condone violence. and i am the first person to say that your rights completely are yours until they infringe on others. i am no anarchist. but when an oppressed group has tried what they could and the oppressors have failed to notice, something has to give. colin kaepernick peacefully protested, and people got mad.
so when lake street started on fire and looters started to pile out of target with full carts, i wasn’t surprised. i feel awful for the store owners and the people out of jobs and those who will clean it up and the firefighters. and i am worried about residential neighborhoods and the people who live there (good news – there have been no reported injuries from the riots so far). there could be massive socio-economic repercussions for the MSP neighborhood if massive changes aren’t wrought out of this. but i feel much, much worse for george, his family, those who have been victims of power over the years, and oppressed groups.
it’s time to take notice, 80%.
our experiences in this country are different based on what we look like and our background – and if what we look like and life experience matches those of who’s in charge. i’ve had hard times. you have too. like i said, i grew up poor. my 20s weren’t great. but i had access to an education. my family supported me. we didn’t have problems with food. i visited the library often as a child. we had transportation. think about all the things that you take for granted and what your life would have looked like had you not had a consistent education or people who supported you or food or safe neighborhoods or access to places to learn or be yourself.
i’m struggling with an answer to what to do. i’m agitated and feel like i need to do something – go to a protest (not a looting), volunteer at one of the areas that are helping clean or distribute food, donate to organizations that will help. covid, of course, is throwing a wrench into everything. but what i think is needed right now more than anything is to notice and acknowledge our shared humanity. if we see others as lesser than because they’re looting or because they’re protesting or because they’re lighting buildings on fire, and we don’t see that they’re doing these things because those in power have seen them as lesser than this whole time, then it may be time to take a step back and evaluate why you feel the way you do.
because i wish our society cared more about police routinely murdering black people than target getting looted and buildings burning. i wish we cared as much about a white woman lying to 9-1-1 about a black man assaulting her as much as we care about her choking her dog. i wish we cared as much about protecting black people protesting police who murder as much as we cared about protecting armed white people protesting wearing masks and not getting haircuts. i wish we cared more about people than power and greed.
so if this is what it takes for people to take notice and to effect change?
i wish i didn’t have to say it, but let it burn.
When the sun come shining, then I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving, the dust clouds rolling
The voice come in chanting and the fog was lifting
This land was made for you and me
FYI: this was experienced and written before we learned about the number of out of state instigators in the looting. i knew some was happening, but not the extent of it.