Friday, July 8, 2016

Not Okay

What do you say when you need to say something and there is nothing to say.

Well, there's lots to say, but literally everything that could be said has been said, and at this point is has been said over and over. It turns out that when you have too much exposure to the banality of evil, you start having trouble with banality in the response to evil.

I can't promise that this will be clear or cogent or organized. But I can say this much.

It's not okay.

It's not okay that black lives are repeatedly taken for no good reason. It's not okay that they are taken so often that the seemingly endless series of killing seems to take on a narrative shape of its own, as if we're being presented with a series of hypothetical variations on a scenario-- "so, if it's okay to kill a black man who has priors, is it okay if he doesn't?" We get suckered into discussing exactly which black people can be legitimately killed. It is heartbreaking to read (I cannot watch it-- I just can't) Diamond Reynolds crying that her boyfriend was not a gang member, had no prior arrests-- as if any of these would have justified the shooting of Philando Castile.

It's not okay.

It's not okay that several Dallas policemen are dead, shot down while showing how police departments can have a positive relationship with protestors, shot down while keeping those protestors safe and secure. That's how tense and angry our nation is, that this happened at a peaceful protest, in a city that is in many ways a model for positive police relationships with the community.

It's not okay.

It's not okay that the line of murdered black citizens runs so far back that people, searching for something to say, just pull up and repost essays from a year ago.

It's not okay.

It's not okay that we are so confused and muddled in our relationship with guns that we read that folks would be safer if everyone carried a gun, except for these black men  who shouldn't have been carrying guns. Should we all be armed, or not?

It is not okay.

It is not okay that there is apparently no death that is upsetting enough in this country to actually stir up the political will to do anything at all. Groups of small children. Cops. Innocent black men on a daily basis. We are like a drunk who wrecks a new car every single day, and never once thinks, "Maybe I have some sort of problem."

It is not okay.

It is not okay that I keep seeing articles about how if folks don't want to have trouble with the police, they should just comply and be cooperative. Yesterday there was literally less than an hour between the moment that I read a repost of a piece by a black man talking about how he had been stopped by police and he politely told the policeman about his legal concealed carry weapon and everything went just fine-- literally less than an hour between reading that and reading about Philando Castile, shot dead after a traffic stop and informing the officer that he had a legal concealed carry.

So it's not okay that the advice clearly does not work for some folks. It just doesn't.

But beyond that, why should it have to? "Comply or die" is unacceptable to me.

Listen, I am not a raving anarchist. As a teacher, I exercise government-issued authority on a daily basis. But it is so not ok to say that in our country, if you don't respond to authorities with the proper respectful compliance, they may execute you on the spot. That's not okay. That is so not okay.

It is not okay.

I don't have clever answers to the resurgence of racism in our country. I don't have new thoughts about the omnipresence of deadly violence. I don't know a quick and easy way to bring us to a place where we can look at each other and see individual human beings with individual stories and histories and hopes and dreams. I am particularly frustrated because in my life I aspire to and lean on empathy and understanding, but there is simply no way for me as a small town middle-aged white guy to really feel what I must be like to live in a situation where my family and I must learn a whole set of ways to behave just to avoid being shot dead. How does someone live like that? Nobody should have to.

It is not okay.

It is not okay that this is our current normal, that we can expect news of a new death or murder or execution every day, and simply fade into a routine. We decide how much outrage is required. We argue about whether it is more or less worthy of outrage than this other killing. We try to find something to say. We quietly take a pass because we're just so tired of the endless parade of unnecessary death.

And we try to understand, or we give up trying to understand, or we actively resist trying to understand, how this is still a nation where how safe you are depends on your race.

It is not okay.

There's a lesson to be learned from the Trump campaign. Trump has lots of ways to communicate racism and ignorance, but his simplest technique is silence. A person in his crowd says something awful, and Trump says nothing. Say what you want about John McCain, but I will always remember how he shut down a person at one of his rallies and made it absolutely clear that certain attacks on Barack Obama were not okay. Trump just smirks and shrugs and with his silence makes it clear that he thinks that's okay.

I think of how that would translate to me classroom, if one student attacked another and I did nothing. My silence would send a message, and the attacks would continue because my silent message was, "That's okay."

We want novelty and newness from our media, but I think of my childhood, when the network news hammered away at the fighting and death in Vietnam every night, night after night telling the American people, "This is happening, and as you can see, it's not okay." It was monotonous, but it was the truth. These days, we want something new. Give me death and carnage on Game of Thrones, but give me new carnage every week.

It is not okay.

As I said, I have nothing new to say, nothing really to ad to this conversation that we've been having for far too long. But I can't just stay silent, as if I neither know nor care. If I say nothing to the news of the death of the Dallas police, of Philando Castile, or Alton Sterling, or Michael Brown, or all the other people on the list too long to include here-- if I say nothing, it might leave the impression that I think it's all okay.

It is not okay.




6 comments:

  1. What a powerful piece, Peter! Thank you for sharing your on-spot insights through your eloquent writing. I enjoy reading your blog on a daily basis.

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  2. And I would add it's not OK that our politicians send their "thoughts and prayers" but never take any action to help reduce the carnage.

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  3. It's not okay to say and do nothing in front of our country's children. We have a moral obligation to them to fix what's wrong.

    Christine Langhoff

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  4. Random thoughts:

    Yesterday, I had heard about Alton Sterling, and then my daughter told me about Philandro Castile, and I said, "How can this still be happening? With all the killings caught on camera phones, how can this still be happening?"

    Then today I read that 12 policemen have been charged with killings in the past year, and none has been found guilty even of manslaughter. So is a big part of this simply that there continues to be no accountability?

    Teachers unions help teachers accused of something with legal aid and due process, but they don't publically defend teachers accused of being pedophiles or drug dealers. Police unions shouldn't publically defend policemen who have been accused of killing unarmed Black men.

    I liked what President Obama said before the policemen were killed, that the police can't be expected to correct all of society's ills. I thought, "The same way teachers can't be expected to solve all of society's ills." If the underlying problem is inequity and poverty (for example, people who are trying to make ends meet shouldn't be targeted because they're selling loose cigarettes or CD's), then that's what needs to be addressed. People should not be blamed for being poor, as if that were their choice. It's just stupid.

    Can anyone be surprised, after everything that's been happening, that police have been targeted? Of course it's wrong, of course it doesn't help anything, of course it's not the fault of BLM, but can anyone be surprised? Sometimes I think the Black community has to feel like the Palestinians in the West Bank, like they're living in an occupied territory.

    Of course it would be good to outlaw assault rifles, and large magazines, and close background check loopholes, (and do a damn sight more to facilitate people getting mental health counseling). It should be possible since the 5th circuit court of appeals ruled that machine guns are not Constitutionally protected under the 2nd amendment, but that's not going to solve the problem.

    The problem is inequity and racism, seeing some people as "other". I think racism is worse now because integration failed. Bussing was hard on the students bussed, but it was helpful. Maybe better would be to re-draw districts. If people move because of it, re-draw the districts again. And create more magnet schools (but without onerous admittance requirements), and more wraparound community schools in low income areas. Make funding education a priority so these things can be done. From some of the comments I read in Huffington Post, it's obvious that there are a lot of White people who know absolutely no Blacks, who have no day-to-day familiarity talking with them, and thus can't see that people are people, with a lot of individual differences, but all with the same feelings, needs, and aspirations. It's so sad.

    Urgent priority has to be given to solving these problems of racism and inequities. The priority has to be to do everything we can to make everyone be able to be middle class. The rigged neoliberal economy causes inequities that make some people appear Lesser and also cause people to scapegoat. We need a society that puts the well-being of everyone as first priority. The situation is untenable.

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  5. Wow an awesome bit of writing and clearly stating my thoughts as well. As a history teacher for over 26 years, I see history repeating itself. We have not learned from the past. Many have not broken the cycle of hate and ignorance. But I continue to hope. Thank you for this piece. I have hope. Denise a teacher in Wilmington Delaware. A town that has it own problems like everyone else.

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