Let's Get Uncomfortable
- June 15, 2020
- / Rob
- / Feed_Blog
So. NASCAR took the temperature of the room and made the decision to ban the confederate flag from all future events. From what I've seen, the response among fans seems to be pretty mixed- there's been a measure of support, some indifference, and a fair amount of backlash. Whenever sports and politics cross paths, the outcry always seems to orbit around the same nucleus: “stick to sports.” Allegedly, the issue here is that sports should serve as a neutral safe space- an escape from the divisiveness of the world at large- and to do otherwise is to betray the fan base. On its own, that’s already a problematic way of looking at things. But in this specific case, the very fans who insist that sports and politics shouldn't mix are upset because they think it should be okay to carry the flag of a separatist nation that waged a brief and bloody war against the United States into a sporting event and wave it around in front of TV cameras- an act that LITERALLY. BRINGS. POLITICS. INTO SPORTS. That's, uh, completely bat-crap bonkers, right? It's like they're not even trying anymore.
I've been seeing a lot of nonsense of late. This entry was originally going to be a catalogue of all of the stupidest things I saw on the internet in the past few weeks, but it is impossible to keep pace with the waxing tide of sheer, unadulterated fudge-brain stupid these days. It's like fighting the world's dumbest hydra.
There's so much to come to grips with. I've been angry. I've been remorseful. I've been despondent. I've been invigorated. I've been demoralized. I've been inspired and ashamed within the span of a single sentence. I spent a lot of time grappling with the question: "how much of this moment can I really speak to?" As a member of America's Default Setting, I am insulated from virtually all institutionalized injustice in this country, from the explosive incidents that ring out across the nation to the everyday inequities that silently fuel those explosions. I've felt so much, but this isn't about my stupid feelings.
This moment isn't about me.
In a way, it's not about George Floyd, either. We lift him up and say his name because his murder was yet another example of the tragic, inevitable endpoint of systemic racism, but it's not just about him. It's not just about murder. To paraphrase something I heard at a rally in New Orleans, Black lives matter, but not just when they're being taken. Black lives matter while they yet live.
This moment isn't about killing. It's about living.
And Black Americans live in a different country than white Americans. The criminal justice system is a huge part of the problem at every level. Compared to whites, Black Americans are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, tried as adults (if juvenile), and sentenced more harshly under near-identical circumstances. But that's not the whole story. Not even close. On the whole, Black America has a different job market, different school systems, different housing prospects, even a different democracy. We threw out “separate but equal” decades ago, but then we dug “separate” out of the trash.
Reform- at local, state, and federal levels- is vital to this fight. Right now, the nation is a battleground for many vital initiatives aimed at curbing police brutality and restructuring our understanding of and relationship to law enforcement. All of this is awesome. Policing in America should be in the hot seat right now. But we can't uproot prejudice through police reform alone.
That's because systemic racism isn't just about the police, or the banks, or the schools, or some sinister, faceless “They” pulling strings in a deliberate effort to suppress the Black community. This is going to sound weird, but, in a way, systemic racism isn't even about racists. It's not just about the small percentage of people- police or otherwise- who harbor hate in their hearts and seek to exact terror and harm upon people of color. It's about the rest of us: the “good apples,” the ninety-nine percent, the white moderates, the blue wall of silence. It's about the pervasive and nigh-imperceptible biases that inform the actions of well-intentioned individuals and enable us to regard the pain of another human being with indifference or minimization. It's about racism without racists. It's about decent people.
So, it is about me. If you're white, it's about you, too.
If there's ever going to be hope of setting things right, white people (yep. Sorry. All of us) must learn to recognize our own privilege and confront our subconscious biases. I know the knee-jerk reaction here: “I don't have a racist bone in my body. I didn't kill anybody. What does this have to do with me?” It's cool. I've been there. I've made all the same excuses. I used to roll my eyes, too. If you're about to swan-dive into the comments section and ask how come your “white privilege” didn't get you out of that speeding ticket last month, PLEASE do some homework first. There is a tremendous body of collective work- academic theory, rigorous science, documented research, and emotional testimony- on the subject of subconscious bias and the imbalances it creates. I'll include a bunch of pertinent links at the bottom of this post. I implore you to check a few of them out, no matter how skeptical you may feel.
This moment is about living. As long as you yet live, you have the opportunity to be an agent of positive change. Inequality cannot be rectified unless it is confronted at the level of the individual- the self. This requires a thirst for new perspectives and a ton of ruthless introspection. It's understandable to feel defensive during this process. I promise you, this isn't about learning guilt or shame over the person you are or the things you have or the way you live. You are valid. Your pain is real. The things you have are still yours. Your story is true. But there are parts of that story you may not know. There are parts of your story you may not want to know. And there are other people- sisters and brothers and neighbors and strangers- with other stories. Stories we all need to hear.
Regarding privilege and subconscious bias:
There are many great resources online documenting privilege and subconscious bias. If you're looking for some entry-level reading, I'd recommend starting with this article from The Guardian, or this one from Forbes. Peggy McIntosh's “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is a little more academic and less approachable, but it's a great read, providing a wealth of specific examples to illustrate how pervasive and subtle privilege can be. (Here's a link to a non-.pdf version if that's more your speed.) Here are some tests you can take that, while not perfect (nothing in psychology ever is), provide an interesting hands-on model for assessing subconscious bias. And lastly, here's a nice little piece with some tips for addressing one's own subconscious bias, because unfortunately this stuff requires real work.
Assorted online reading:
Some of these pieces were recommended to me, some I found on my own. There's no particular order to these, and no unifying theme or concept beyond being pertinent to this moment. It's all just stuff that I personally found to be accessible and illuminating.
Yes, Black America Fears the Police. Here's Why
The Injustice of This Moment Is Not an 'Aberration'
What It's Like to Be Black in the Criminal Justice System
Why We Never Talk About Black-on-Black Crime - A brilliant, thorough, well-documented response to all of the "what about Chicago?" "what about Black-on-Black crime?" questions out there. I've been reading a lot of Michael Harriott's writing this week. He's a quality Twitter follow if you're into that sort of thing.
Some Brief, Friendly Advice About Race and Racism
The Big Book of Black Quarterbacks (Part II here) - Last year, amid the same predictable criticism that has dogged Black quarterbacks for decades, Lamar Jackson became only the second player in NFL history to be named MVP by a unanimous vote. A lot of people might watch an athlete kneel during the national anthem and think "why you gotta bring politics into my sports?", but politics has been in your sports for a long time. This sprawling compendium stopped updating in 2013, but it still speaks volumes to many of the subtle downward forces exerted upon Black athletes and Black Americans, both past and present.
Dear White People: This Is What We Want You to Do - Stern-but-fair missive full of simple "do"s and "don't"s for well-meaning white readers. Also contains a lot of links to resources for education and avenues of action.
8:46 - Wow. That's really all there is to say about this one. Just watch it.
If you want to get involved, there are approximately one hundred trillion ways to act. You can act big, or small. You can go national, or keep it local. You can take to the streets, or you can literally help fight injustice while sitting on the toilet. It's true. You can:
Vote. I can't say it enough. Vote. VOTE. VOTEVOTEVOTEVOTEVOTEVOTEVOTE. Don't gimme that bullshit about “both candidates are the same.” A) that is incredibly wrong- not just this year but every time you say it- and B) what the hell do you mean, “both candidates?” Sure, the presidential contest typically comes down to two plausible candidates, but do you think democracy just, like, hibernates for the four years between general elections? You have SO MUCH power at the state and local level, and if you let it go to waste, the bad guys win. Get involved. Stay informed. Be active in your local community. VOTE!
If you aren't registered, our good friends at HeadCount can help with that. If you need help finding information about your local elections, Ballotpedia has this handy guide and is a good resource in general.
Read, listen, watch. You can grow so much by experiencing the world from someone else's vantage point. If I'm being honest, this is one of my bigger blind spots. Fortunately, there are a ton of lists going around of things to read, watch, and listen to. I'll be starting with 1619.
Donate. Want to push for sensible reform to help curb police brutality? Start here. Want to take it a step further and defund the police? That's cool. I'm not necessarily advocating for or against defunding in this space, but it's important to note that “defund the police” is NOT a call to anarchy, or a slip-n-slide into a year-round Purge scenario. Anyone who says otherwise is either ill-informed or straight-up lying to you. Anyway, here's where to start. Want to help protesters get out of jail? Hoo boy, have you got options- with this handy megaportal, you can donate to over seventy different bail funds, either individually or all at once. If you're not sure how best to help, but you want to do something anyway, you can always donate to larger organizations like Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, or the ACLU. Also, you can find even more options here and also here.
Attend rallies and protests. These will probably taper off as the weeks drag on, but there are always going to be opportunities to take direct action. Be sure to wear a mask and remember to respect your fellow demonstrators, listen to the organizers, and be safe. There isn't really a universal hub for this one, since demonstrations are all local. I don't know what's going on in your area. I don't even know where you live!
Do a hundred different things, or even just ONE thing.