We need to talk about love, more love, light, darkness and all the other ethereals that are being invoked to explain and treat the absolute crap storm that is playing on repeat in the US.
I want you to know, that when spoken over the real experiences and absolute terror that they inspire, to throw out a broad brush of love and light against this equally vague darkness feels like a violence. It is a quieting of voices that need to be heard. It is a bright and scorching deflection from real issues onto something undefined and unknown. Well-intended, though I am sure it is, it is a violence, and I need to tell you why...
What happened this time?
Two black men were killed by police officers. Both were caught on camera. If you've been paying attention, you know that any criminal record that could be found would be unearthed and put on full display before the first tears dried on the faces of their grieving family.
As it happens, Alton Sterling did have a criminal record and if you read the right (or wrong) pieces about, him, you'd get the idea that maybe he should have been shot. Except having prior convictions is not a crime and certainly not crime punishable by storefront execution.
Philando Castile was shot soon after, in Minnesota. He doesn't have a record, but ask me how I know that he has had a bunch of traffic violations...Still not a crime. Still not a crime punishable by execution in front of your family. Neither is a "wide nose..." the actual reason he and his girlfriend, who was driving, were pulled over.
During a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, TX, 5 officers were shot and killed. Another 7 were injured, and two civilians were also injured. They were attacked by a lone wolf sniper, who was apparently motivated by his frustration with police killing black men. He was killed.
I'm sickened over it all. I feel physically ill. I feel compelled to explain that while love and light are beautiful and valuable - while some sort of darkness may be a piece of the driving force - the problem with waving the "more love" wand, is that love didn't create the problem. Racism did...actually...the racism that was woven into the fabric of our society through the enslavement of African people and laws to support that institution, and then other awful but equally harmful laws, policies, and ways of being that were designed (this wasn't happenstance) to oppress black people. All that work to withhold rights while maximizing profit and pleasure from black bodies gave birth to the racism we know and live...and racism isn't just a capital R, one and done thing.
There are two levels of racism with two parts each. On the Individual level there is internalized and interpersonal racism. On the Systemic level, there is institutional racism, and structural racism. This is a piece of the "'darkness" but that darkness has a name. It is called racism and it needs to be called by name every time. That's the light...calling it out. That's that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. light that can only drive out darkness. And it's the love too. Kelly Diels just published a wonderfully clear piece on this very thing: That Martin Luther King, Jr. & Ghandi kind of love.
I am certain the men who orchestrated the formal founding of our country, which intentionally excluded their slaves and women, loved and more loved something or someone in their life. Maybe many somebodies, but they did some awful, real things and those awful, real things need to be undone by good, real work.... Real conversations, real action, real dismantling of a racist system that has crippled us to the point that black men and boys are being shot and killed within seconds, without weapons, or with as is their 2nd amendment right.
Can you imagine a life where your nose is now grounds for being pulled over and as you comply with orders, you take your last breath?
What you can do
You can do what you want to. I'm not the boss of you.
But if you really want to be the change and actually see change, you listen. You believe that there is a real problem. (If you don't believe it ask yourself why that is a problem for you, not people of color. We will talk about that later.)
You can love and light against the darkness all you want, but don't tell people that that is the solution -- that isn't listening and it certainly isn't hearing, because no one is saying LOVE MATTERS or LIGHT MATTERS. They do, but what is on the line right now is black lives...black lives playing with toy guns, black lives crossing the street, black lives selling CDs, black lives with wide noses (whatever that means) and their family in the car...a four year-old in the back seat didn't even matter.
If you feel afraid of that word "racism" ask yourself why, but don't tell others not to use it...which is effectively what you are doing when you say to love more in a generic way. It makes or suggests that speaking out in a concrete way wrong or negative... and that is concerning.
Something additional to consider: Victims of racism don't actually have a love or light problem. We have a born-into-a-messed-up-system problem. And what we all need is a fixed-up-and-fair-system solution. See?
Next week, I want to talk about your goodness in a bad system. It might smart a bit.