Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Imagine Regular Willy

Archie Bunker's in his chair, talking about a guy he works with. Why, the Meathead demands hotly, do you always have to call him "Black Willy?"

"So's you can tell him from Regular Willy," Archie says.

Well there it is. We're a long way from everyone getting to be Regular Willy. And no sooner do we  have awful events like last week's, when two black men were murdered by officers of the law, and five officers of the law were executed by a sniper on a personal mission, than all of America reacts with brief shock and retreats immediately to their own bunkers.

We do that because that's where we feel safe, with our own kind, and also that's where all our ammunition is. Dig in, and be ready to fight back.

We're a very defensive people. We're pretty sure everyone is out to get us. We are not really the home of the brave. We wouldn't be bristling with either firearms or insults if we were. Behind our bunkers, we sort through our arms.

Black men are all thugs.  Or look like thugs, which is kind of the same thing.
Cops are all racists. 
Black people kill the most black people.
We need more open-carry.
Not you, Rashawn.
No one gets pulled over and shot for no reason at all.
The sniper was a veteran who was ruined by our war machine.
The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Unless the good guy is a black guy with a broken taillight and the bad guy is a cop.
You can't possibly know what it's like to be a police officer who takes his life in his hands every time he puts on the blue.

All sorted out?  Ready to aim and fire?

All righty! Let's get things rolling with a thoughtful essay about white privilege.

Are you calling me a racist? I'm not a racist. This is bullshit.

Okay sure. But if you can drive down the road and see flashing lights behind you and think oh crap and now I'm going to be even later and this is going to be expensive, but not even once entertain the notion that you might be dead soon, you may be benefitting from what some are calling privilege. If you can reasonably assume you might get in trouble for your own dumbass actions but not for who you are or how you look, you're being given the benefit of the doubt. And, no mistake, that's the way it should be. You get to be Regular Willy. Everybody should get to be Regular Willy. But everybody doesn't get to be Regular Willy.

If you're being introduced to the concept of white privilege, you're not being accused of anything. You're not being asked to apologize. Settle down. It's a call to empathy. You're being asked to consider that other people's experience is unlike yours. You're being invited to put yourself in someone else's shoes. A teenager being pulled over by a cop. Or, a cop. Or, for extra credit, a trained killer back from Afghanistan with a heap of rage and a gun. There are lots of shoes. If we're going to understand each other, we need to try them all on. It costs us nothing.

Imagine being a good kid. Or just a normal goofy kid who does stupid shit. And all your life you're followed around whenever you go into a store. Women cross the street to avoid you. You and your friends on the corner are regularly questioned by the police when you're not doing anything wrong, or you're pulled over for no reason. Over and over and over, yes sir, no ma'am. Your parents have had to teach you what to do with your hands and body when that happens so you don't die. Or, imagine being that mom or dad. How do you feel?

It should be so easy to imagine. If we could step just outside the bunker. If it weren't so comfortable in there. And there wasn't all that ammunition we'd be wasting.

And so now we witness our fellow citizens crying out in despair and screaming stop killing us, and count on it: a whole lot of white people are going to be affronted. They aren't killing anybody. They get their feelings hurt.

But they get to keep their sons.

I knew this guy, once. He thought it was nuts that black people are so worked up all the time. Overreacting. Like, buckle down, get over it, right? Get a job and ack normal. Same dude went on for hours about some rich lady on his mail route who looked all snooty at him like she thought she was better than him. Hours. One would think he could understand the sting of condescension and dismissal. And work from there to inconsequence and actual existential danger.

But because he has never felt mortally threatened by a cop, he can't imagine that police work might attract a certain percentage of bad-ass, dangerous bullies. Instead they're all brave heroes with really hard jobs to do, and their victims must have done something to deserve their fates. He simply could not imagine that if you kept your head down and stayed on the straight and narrow--you know, mostly--you would have anything to fear from the police.

Except our lives and experiences are not all the same. And if your reaction to black lives matter is all lives matter, you're not listening. You're behind your bunker, on the defense, and not paying attention to other people's testimony. And that is all that's being asked of you: that, right now, you consider that black lives are in fact disposable in a way yours is not. Jesus. Pipe down and just listen.

That won't kill you.

41 comments:

  1. Not sure what to say to this. It's a very unfair world we live in and I wish it wasn't so.
    If only things like this didn't have to be written. If the world was different and everyone saw everyone else as just people.

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    1. I guarantee you I would much prefer to write about underpants.

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  2. Well, as usual, you said it much better than I!!

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    1. Ehhh...hope it's okay. I wrote about three times this much and hacked it down.

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    2. Less is always more when you are a good writer.

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    3. I agree--I was thinking this shoulda been shorter, but this was as far as I got, hacking!

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  3. Makes my heart hurt.
    Beautifully done.

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    1. Seconded. And, if we keep at it, this empathy effort, it'll make the head hurt, too. Which will have to become okay.

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    2. We can do it, if we alternate with snortworthy intervals. I'll do my best.

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  4. What is it with our culture that makes things the way they are? What is our big flaw?. In some ways I am glad that I am old and won't have to watch this painful process forever.

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  5. Very timely piece. You write so well. Perhaps if enough people like you speak out some will begin to hear and slowly things will begin to change. The change has to come from each individual person, not from Washington.

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    1. We do have to listen.
      My sister told me once if there were people I thought I didn't like, I should get to know more of them. I can't remember what brought that on.

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  6. Right on! I've already tried imagining being a mom of a black son, and even the act of imagining it was sweat-inducing and anxiety-inducing and heartbreaking. And I've tried imagining what it's like to be a cop who has to face the thought of death every day. The truly good ones must suffer psychic damage after years of that, and must be discouraged by the violent ones in their ranks. My imagination serves me well until I try to imagine solutions. Many people by the very nature of being human are also fallible and instinctively protective of their own lives and their way of living and do not seem capable of empathizing. It is scary. Truly scary. If I were to come close to a solution it would be to educate our little ones, the same as we've done with recycling (don't laugh). Train them young. It's being done in some places but not enough, and it's expecting teachers to do society's teaching as well as the three R's, which is not fair either. We had - for a short while - a program in the local elementary school where a mom of a baby would bring the baby weekly to a class of little ones and from what I hear it did help kids to empathize better with others. But the program depended on that teacher. We need something far more organized and far-reaching. And we need people to write about it and not stop writing about it. Thank you for being one of those voices.

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    1. I understand there's a code among police officers that you do not break that blue line, all for one and one for all, etc., which I understand, but I can't help but think that percentage of rotten cops must be making life hell for the good ones, and wish there'd be a little breaking-of-ranks.

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    2. Your post reminds me of the Mai Lai massacre. Being part of the club...

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  7. Also, apparently I do not care about paragraphs when I am all het up.

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  8. "You're being asked to consider that other people's experience is unlike yours." That's it, Murr.

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  9. YES. And I wish my capitals were bigger and more emphatic. And yes, as always to jenny_o.

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  10. " We are not really the home of the brave. We wouldn't be bristling with either firearms or insults if we were. Behind our bunkers, we sort through our arms." - Fear is behind most acts of bullying, even D. Trump's. Well said, Murr. The most insightful essay on this issue I've read.

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    1. Not sure fear is actually behind Trump's behaviour, but he certainly plays on the fears of his followers.

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    2. Hi cigran-cg, I just looked up your latest post, which was a while ago. You nailed it. I liked O'Malley also. I'm not much of a psychologist so I don't know what motivates people like Trump. I haven't met too many who were like that. I haven't ruled out that he's totally goofing on everyone and is playing it day to day.

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  11. Truth. Sharing. I have kept to myself and not spoken. But that's not the way. You speak for me.

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  12. Oh, you have said this so well. My grandkids interacted with Phil Castilo every day at school, and he was pulled over and shot five blocks from my house. I blogged about my own anger and the need to change how we define the role of police. But I mostly got silence. I love the way you invite people to consider the experiences of others, and I may quote you the next time I decide to write about this topic. This cannot stand.

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  13. This is so well argued, I just wish you weren'the preaching to the choir here. Are you working on that syndicated column?

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  14. I don't even think of this one as being to the choir. Seems like it could go wider, but I probably underestimate people's ability to ponder.

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  15. Bravo!! BRAVO!! (Wild applause here)
    You just totally hit the nail on the head.
    Thank you.

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  16. Beautifully said. Elephant's Child directed me here. I'm a WordPress person now wishing it were easier to follow someone on Blogger.

    Do you have a Twitter account?

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    1. Anybody here know how to help with the Wordpress conundrum? I do not know how ANY of it works. And this here blog is seriously old-school. I have a twitter account; I think there's a doohickey on the left up there. But I almost never remember to tweet. I can at least try to get these silly posts up there. Fair warning: I write about underpants and stuff way more often than this kind of thing.

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  17. About the use of the word privilege: this article describes "privilege" as being able to drive around without being hassled as much by police, or having to fear beng shot by the police if stopped. Being able to live your life without being targeted by the government (police) seems to me to be a right, not a privilege. So if the authorities are treating black people in a way that violates equal protection they would not be "unprivileged," it would be that their rights are being denied. Seems to me most examples of white privilege that I see are really about the free excercise of rights, and don't involve whites getting special treatment, but blacks being mistreated. Am I wrong?

    Using the language of "privilege," when the issue being talked about is one of rights, seems to me to purposefully focus on the wrong end of the problem - whites having full civil rights as opposed to blacks lacking them. It's pointing at the white person normally excercisng rights and and saying no fair! You can get away with going where you want and doing what you want without being oppressed! Seems to me it's a classist shaming term. Tell somone that they have benefited from their special privilege or that they live a privileged life and they will disagree and probably angrily so, because it has associations of unearned status and success that make it a slur in our society. Oddly it always seems to be white privilege discussed as the problem, not "black lack of privilege." In terms of freedom of travel, lack of official oppression, etc, unprivileged hardly makes sense though, because those are rights issues. What do you think?

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    1. I agree that the term "white privilege," which I certainly didn't invent, tends to feel provocative to many white people, especially if they feel in no way privileged. But I understand why it's used. To go at it from the "rights" perspective doesn't really convey the intended message. We all have rights. But things like a fundamental presumption of innocence (from police and from ordinary citizens) go far deeper and broader than just a lack of "rights." I disagree that white privilege is discussed as "the problem," even though whites taking a defensive stance might feel that way. The concept is an attempt to alert whites to a perverse and pervasive set of circumstances that they are often unaware of. Your average white person really fails to imagine how corrosive it is to the soul to be assumed guilty, not now and then but over and over again. So, as I said, being introduced to the concept of white privilege is an INVITATION to listen to others relate their experiences and acknowledge that those experiences are different from theirs. Did you see that video of Senator Tim Scott (S. Carolina) talking about how many times he has been stopped by police?

      Now, whether a different term from "privilege" should be used, in order to not set off our defensiveness and immediate retreat to the bunkers, that's something else again. I see the term as a good one, because it invites us to think about things in a different way. But then again I'm not very defensive by nature.

      I do remember the very first article I read (30 years ago?) that pulled me up short and made me consider things in a different way. I had basically been thinking everybody's on the same playing field and if you buckle down and blah blah blah we'll all get along. This fellow started out his essay something like this:

      "My first victim was walking along Broadway at ten at night." He went on to describe walking down the street behind a white woman who quickened her pace and then crossed the street. He needed to cross the street too, so he did, and she kind of took off. Now, the point is not that the woman shouldn't have been cautious; it was that he was forced to confront the reality that he, as a black man, a professor, I believe, had to conduct his life under a cloud of suspicion.

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    2. Very little in this world is more unearned than the luck of being born white.

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    3. I don't know. I chose my parents very carefully.

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  18. I love you Murr Brewster and I thank unmitigated for trimming it to 15 words.

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