You can bring an assault rifle into the capitol building in Michigan, an hour away from my house, and the authorities will protect your space to protest. You can do this with many people, wearing masks with skulls and camouflage to hide your identity. The people in charge will make sure that nobody takes your guns away, and facilitate your being allowed to scream obscenities at public servants in their place of work. You can stare down from a balcony with an automatic weapon at the people below, mirroring so many mass shooters in the past 20 years, and the cops will put their lives on the line to protect your right to express and defend yourself.
At least if you’re white.
If you’re black, you will get tear gassed for raising your hands in surrender, if someone feels like there are too many of you.
These events, while recent, are not new. This is America. This is a society that has been architected for generations to advantage white people and keep people of color down. The murder of George Floyd is disgusting and heartbreaking. But it is not new, and it will happen again.
Here’s 80 pieces of evidence in the past 5 years. 80 black people shot or choked, or tased. 80 black people killed in the past five years for crimes ranging from forging a check to running away, while us white people take full advantage of our right to bring assault weapons into our government buildings and threaten public servants.
Racism is an uncomfortable topic for white people. It’s uncomfortable for me, as a white person, to talk about this stuff. It’s offensive. It’s hurtful, and some examples of it are so overwhelmingly wrong and sad, that it’s much easier to simply look away.
As a white person, I can do that.
I can just shake my head, tell my black friends that what happened was so wrong, and that I see all people the same, and keep living my life. I can punt the issue to people of color and focus on my family instead, and I’ll never have to explain to my kids how to safely interact with the police. I can focus on my business, and I’ll never have to question whether I belong in a meeting. I can be Switzerland, and I will still be able to bring my assault rifle wherever I want, and when the next black person is murdered I can just shake my head and “denounce” the whole thing again.
But it’s getting harder and harder to pretend that shaking my head and showing solidarity is enough.
Heart in the right place or not, empathetic platitudes are white people’s way of copping out to actually doing anything about systemic racism, and we need to do better if anything is ever going to change. White people built this society, white people benefit from this society, and white people control this society through our institutions and our legal system. Even though we’re the benefactors of this whole system (especially because of that), it’s up to white people to change this society. Or it won’t be too long until the next dead person of color. Statistically, probably a couple weeks.
All the solidarity in the world doesn’t mean much without action, taken by those in a position to take it. And yes, I’m talking to myself, too. Publishing this blog post is something (it damn sure makes me uncomfortable to talk about my own racism and responsibility), but it’s not enough.