…continued from Tuesday
A few weeks ago I published a post called A Direct Appeal where I called on men and boys to fight systemic sexism and shift rape culture out of existence. I asked men and boys to get involved on a micro level, to challenge other men and boys, to change the conversation, to call out bad behavior, and support women and girls. I asked them to leverage the power afforded them by their gender to put an end to violence against women. But if I’m not working the same angles for other oppressed groups, what am I? If I am not leveraging the power afforded me by my skin color to put an end to violence against people of color, what am I?
Which brings me to the current urgent state of affairs in this country. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Two more black men murdered by police, just like last year. Just like the year before. Just like every year. We record the murders, just like last year, just like the year before. We see with our own eyes, on demand, exactly what went down. We know the murderous cops won’t be charged. They won’t be prosecuted or held accountable. They may not even get a slap on the wrists. If not now, when?
After the mass murder at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando a couple of weeks ago, where a whole group of LGBTQ folks were shot to death by one person, I asked, if this isn’t the line, what is? I wanted to know how atrocious gun violence needs to get before we the people are ready to make systemic changes to address the massacre of our citizenry. I’m asking the same question now, of myself, of other white people, about how we treat black people. If now isn’t the time to step up and get involved in changing our terribly racist system, when is?
I was at the airport last week heading on vacation. It was a quiet afternoon, the lines were short, the pace steady and relaxed. I was in line behind a black family of four who were TSA pre-check, that elite class of travelers. Usually I watch with a fleeting sense of longing as the pre-check folks glide through the lines, shoes and jackets on, no scan required. But that day was different. The TSA agents were stone-faced, pulling the young son’s bag off the belt for a search with no word to the family about what was happening. The line jammed up behind them as they stood waiting for their bags to come through the scan, looking confused at the delay. After several minutes of disorganized activity one of the agents abruptly barked to the mother that she needed to get out of the way and stand over by the group of agents, behind the belt, a space no traveler would naturally broach. He pointed past the line to another spot, demanding the child stand there, away from his parents.
At no point was it communicated to the family their bags were being searched, and that they were effectively being detained. I began to commiserate with the mother and father about the overall incompetence of the agents and the lack of clarity around what was happening. I thought the whole point of being pre-check was to avoid the snags. A trusted passenger, you were supposed to move through the security experience with ease. I watched as the family was sharply, disrespectfully ordered around, made to feel they were causing a security issue and delays for other passengers, and separated from each other and their baggage. It was a hot fucking mess (not that I have high standards for the competence and organization of TSA agents), and it was because they were black.
Walking away, as I was allowed to do, without pre-check status, and because of my white skin, I thought of what I wanted to say, how I wish I had addressed the situation. I felt ashamed for walking away, letting it go. If not now, when? What I wanted to say, what I should have said was, please don’t treat us like this. A simple, non-aggressive, non-violent statement that conveyed I was witnessing racist behavior, and asking for it to stop. Why didn’t I throw my lot in with that family and challenge the bad behavior of the agents? I don’t have a good answer for that, and so I ask myself, if not now, when? Do I need a written invitation? Do I need to have the perfect word choice before I’m willing to open my mouth? Do I need to personally witness something truly beyond-the-pale hideous to spur me to action? If not now, when?
If I am not for others, what am I? I don’t want to lose my humanity by idly watching the humanity of others be stripped away. If not now, when? If this isn’t the time, it won’t ever be.