Privilege Blog

Inalienable, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:47am

It’s a tough day. I am not able to write without reference to what’s happening in America.

A man died.

A Black man died after a policeman kneeled on his neck for many minutes. The event was captured on video and seen over and over again around America. People protested in the streets. People and their belongings and their livelihoods were damaged.

I don’t have a brain large enough to absorb and comprehend what has happened or why. None of the available conceptual models–neither economics, psychology, social welfare, nor politics–at least no single model in any of these disciplines, explains it all to me.

Which means that I can’t pretend to discern a pattern that points to a way forward. I can only listen to my feelings, in hopes of an inalienable truth. At least one.

We don’t live together for death. We live together to help each other live longer and better lives. Black folk are dying more often, in America, at younger ages, of violence and disease, than white people.  Many of us had convinced ourselves that this was getting better, but no.

Here’s my inalienable truth. America must offer the same contract of belonging to all.

So when you’re thinking this through, if you find yourselves jumping through hoops to justify your feelings that we’re talking about this too much, or focusing on people who have been “behaving badly,” take a minute.

America’s worse if you’re Black than if you’re white. That’s undeniably true and undeniably wrong.

But my feelings barely matter right now. So read what LZ Granderson writes, at the LA Times. Or listen to Trevor Noah, here. It’s OK if at first you are primarily angry at the protestors, as long as you open yourself in the end to understanding. You don’t have to abandon sympathies for anyone else–unemployed working class whites in Pennsylvania, a disabled young religious man in Idaho, or even the woman in Texas who has sacrificed her dreams so her husband could make millions–but you do, from where I sit, need to acknowledge who hurts most.

My love and appreciation to you all

37 Responses

  1. I haven’t been able to think about much else the last few days either. Your words are so thoughtful and gracious, and get right to the heart of it. Thanks for this.

    I had just finished the LZ Granderson article before I popped over here. So wrenching to read, and yet it wasn’t new. It echoed accounts I’ve heard and read from black people for the last few decades. I don’t know what it’s going to take to bring about justice and change, but I can hope that we’re at a turning point, and will do what I can to be “part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

  2. Thank you.

    I had thought Ferguson would be the turning point. There has to be one.

    1. Sadly, in America there seems to be no “turning points” ~ wouldn’t you have thought that the Sandy Hook shootings would have been enough for strong gun control reform? Look at how New Zealand reacted to their first school shooting. It seems nothing turns the tide in the US. I have theories about why, but too long for here, and also just my own. xo

  3. I hope you don’t mind a somewhat political comment but here it goes. Trump has stoked the fires of white supremacy since he’s been in office. He’s also tweeted so many violent statements such as “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” – I mean – how is he not in jail? Hate crimes have increased dramatically since his was elected. I hope come November, a change of administration, will help calm things down. That being said, there is a lot of underlying racism and anti-Semitism in our world, and I’m not sure what is to be done about that. But Trump has undoubtedly made Americans feel it’s “OK” to act on it.

    1. Agreed. It’s so difficult to watch the news these days. So sad and so scary.

  4. Angry, so angry. This won’t be a turning point, and that makes me even angrier. You at least still write coherently about it All I can do is sputter and rage.

  5. Thank-you for stating what we all wish were not true.
    Racism is alive in America stoked by Trump who wishes to exploit it for political gain.

    None of us are perfect but we must do better.


  6. Thank you for sharing this perspective. It’s hard to process what’s been happening, but it’s been happening because things must change. There’s no time to waste…

  7. Trevor Noah nailed it for me in his perceptive take on what’s going on with black lives in America today.

  8. Racist behaviors won’t change until racist thinking changes. Thinking can change if children are taught, from earliest ages, to respect and value all people and the environment. I wonder how many essays, verbal or written, change racist’s minds. I fear the speakers or writers are “preaching to the choir.” How to change racist thinking, that is the question.

    1. @Carol in Denver, In his book How To Be An Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi compellingly makes the case that education is not, or at least not alone, the answer. Really worth reading (and it’s a very accessible book, thoroughly engaging and so well-argued). Instead of educating people that we’re all human, that discrimination is wrong, etc. etc (which has been happening for generations, with shockingly little effect, as we see now), we need to be proactively anti-racist (i.e. not just “I’m not racist) and do what we can to change policy. We need to understand, Kendi says, that there are many in power whom the current system suits very well, and education doesn’t shift that. Instead, when policy is changed, thinking follows eventually (he provides many cogent examples). Highly recommend reading this and then doing our best to be anti-racist AF!

  9. Dear Lisa and devoted followers of Privilege. As an antipodean, miles across the ocean, I watch the news uncomprehendingly. Thank you for continuing to write during this incredibly difficult year Lisa. Your weekly writing is always appreciated, especially so in dark times.

  10. This sadness affects us all, no matter our political ideology. It is important that everyone realize that life is not the same for people of color as it is for caucasians. We have to change as a society and it will be a monumental effort for many. It requires education at a time our public school system is being assailed. I feel sad all around.

  11. @KSL,i agree wholeheartedly. Most troubling to me is the assault on facts and truth. I am an optimist but lately I find it increasingly difficult to watch the news.

  12. I read that police brutality is systemic not anecdotal during the Trump years. He has made racism acceptable to his supporters. My maternal great-grandmother was Black and faced prejudice with quiet fortitude. When I read of these incidents the tears flow. I don’t blame the protesters. So much sorrow…

  13. This is horrific. What will it take to put a stop to Black people being targeted like this? I hope the officer is convicted to the fullest extent of the law.

  14. Admitting there is a problem is the first step in solving it. Well done, Lisa, on calling out the fact the life is not the same for black people as it is for white.

  15. I attended the big protest in my city (Pittsburgh) on May 30 to join the march and take photos.  The march was peaceful and I felt quite comfortable in the crowd.  Towards the scheduled end of the march people were milling about aimlessly and some people started to get antagonistic towards the police.

    The mood shifted very quickly.  Having been to lot of protests I recognized the signs that things were about to get out of control and left the area to start my walk home.  A few minutes after I left a police car was set afire and things deteriorated.

    My observation was that here, as I’ve seen in other protests, the willful actions of a very small number of people turned an effective peaceful protest into a mess.  Once that barrier had been broken others joined in  but the instigators were few.  I won’t guess as to their political affiliations or reasons (it is very easy to wear all black and cover your face), but it’s infuriating that the selfish actions of a few people muddled the message and mission of this protest.

    To address a separate concern:  almost every person at the protest was masked and I did my best to keep distance, but I’m quite aware that by attending I risked being exposed to Covid-19.  So why did I go?  Because this issue is critical if our country is to heal and move forward, and I believe that it’s incredibly important that older people be seen at these protests, not just the usual crowds of teens and 20s. When I was a young person at protests, I would look around and wish that more older people were there — didn’t they care?  Now that I’m middle-aged (57), I understand better why so many don’t show up.  Because of my background, I’m familiar with these situations and able to navigate within them, so I go.  Others might have health issues or feel frightened and I don’t blame them for staying home.But we can all do something.  We are in difficult times and it’s not hyperbole to say that we are going to have to fight for the future of our democracy.  I’d like to encourage those who are able to gather a group and attend a protest, because it is so important for youth to see older people — especially older white people — standing up.  We have a great deal power and, I would argue, a huge obligation.  I’d also like to share this list of 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice; protesting is just one, a lot of it is just educating yourself.

    And we all need to do everything we can to get out the vote this year.  We are in a fight for the future of this country, and everyone is needed.

  16. Thank you for your thoughtful words. I am reading How to be an Antirasist and Stamped from the Beginning, to better understand the racist structures/policies in our society.

    And be able to better address, within my own circle of friends, nice white ladies that need to see out of their bubble. I am following, listening and learning from POC and Black woman that are speaking about these issues, to understand and step outside my own bubble. Since my husband is Chinese, I am interested in Asian voices as well.

  17. @KSL

    You wrote: “Hate crimes have increased dramatically since his was elected. I hope come November, a change of administration, will help calm things down.”

    I believe that we, Americans, don’t need things (racism) to calm down. We need things (racism) to be extinguished. The our country has taken a whack-a-mole approach to racism—combating racism which results in minor or temporary solutions. Additionally, I believe that many White Americans are really uncomfortable when it comes to talking about race and looks at colorblindness as a cure for racism and bigotry– “All Lives Matter”. This is not acceptable anymore.

    I believe in order for our country to healing we, Americans must:

    1) build country we really want to live in–changing our criminal justice system, healthcare system, educational system to name a few.

    2) bring Ethnic Studies in to the classroom. The core of Ethnic Studies pedagogy is to prep students with the tools to better understand social inequities and structural forces that will shape their lives while also providing tangible strategies to transform communities and our countries.

    3) must be open to fully embrace the pain and discomfort of racism. There’s a lot our country needs untangle and regardless of it’s of how nasty and painful it is we must be open to sit with its ugliness. POC/Black people, regardless of their economic or educational status, sit/live with rasicim everyday.

    4) Last but not least, POC/Black Americans don’t need anymore sympathy–they need EMPATHY. POC/Black people need White people to put themselves in the place of Black people and identify with them.

    I could go on and on with my thoughts but I’ll stop here. Americans need to understand that we are all connected and are responsible for one another. In the Torah, this concept is called Kavod HaBriyot (honor the creation of human beings or human dignity). The assignations of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, 18 y.o. Tasjon Tyreek Osbourne and many other Black Americans are a signs that we all must continue to work for justice and for their justice.

    Lisa thank you for sharing your thoughts and for creating a safe space for us to share our own ideas, thoughts and feelings.

    1. I never meant “things calming down” as burying the ongoing and pervasive racism. I of course agree with all you say here.

    2. @Janeen,

      No aggression here. I’m just adding to the conversation and expressing my thoughts. We are all in agreement. So glad this is a safe space to share.

  18. Thank you for your thoughts, for the links and for opening up the space to this wonderful discussion. Historically, racism was the consequence and justification of (colonial) exploitation and oppression. Religion and science were then recruited to build that elaborate ideological construction whose main purpose was economical and political from the beginning. So I agree with those who argue here that racism has to be fought with political rather than educational means.

  19. Watching this in horror from the UK. What happened to America being the land of the free? Just for some?

    1. @Linda (West Wales), Sadly, Linda, racism isn’t unique to the US – with the rise of white nationalism and populist leaders more than willing to exploit the anger of those that think by electing them, things will return to some magical time in history. (When was that!?!)

  20. The discussion here has been so thoughtful and wide-ranging, and so consistently interesting, that I doubt I have anything new to add. But I would like to stress one thing:

    Good thoughts and fine words can inspire and guide, can be shared with others, and can live far beyond the moment. But without action, they risk dying on the page.

    Action can take many forms, from the personal inventory of one’s own thoughts, words, and deeds, to the more elaborate forms of public engagement and advocacy, with many stops in between. We each choose our own action(s), which may change over time.

    Inaction is also a choice. But if we choose not to act on behalf of principles we claim to hold dear, we become “but tinkling cymbals … full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    [ with apologies to Saint Paul and Shakespeare! ]

  21. You worked in tech. How many Black people did you hire compared to H1-B visa holders?

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