“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.”
~ Oscar Wilde
Since I am living in the U.S., I feel it would be negligent of me to write a post that doesn’t discuss the topic of race. The acquittal of the officer who shot Philando Castile is the latest in a long line of things that make you go, “what the f*ck?”
The thing is, I have sat here staring at the blank page for several hours now, and I don’t have words. It’s 105° F today, and my house lacks central A/C and adequate insulation. I’m sweaty and stinky, and I want to take a shower, but I am determined to publish a post before I do anything else. And I don’t know what to say.
I have written over 1000 words about pretty much anything else, but I can’t publish those thoughts because they are not the ones that matter most right now. The verdict came in on Friday, but here I sit on Monday, and I still have no words.
And maybe that is as it should be. I am a white woman. What could I possibly add to the conversation? But that doesn’t feel right. I feel like I have to speak out. Yet I don’t know how.
I don’t come from a particularly enlightened lineage. I spent a lot of time in my great-grandparents’ home as a child – a home where racial slurs were thrown around on a semi-regular basis with no self-consciousness whatsoever.
In my own immediate family, I didn’t hear that. I was, however, taught about the unsuitability of interracial relationships. My grandparents insisted that the cultural differences were insurmountable.
My mother’s take is problematic in a different way. She is one of those people who “doesn’t see color.” Try as I might, I cannot seem to make her see why that is offensive.
I am quite sure that despite all of my efforts to be aware, to listen to the experience of others, to put myself in their shoes, there are realities that I ignore – blind spots, areas where my feelings reject what I am being told because that sort of thing has never happened to me and I struggle to believe that people are that horrible to others. My privilege is showing, I know.
And while I feel like I should get a little credit for putting in as much effort as I do, I know it will never be enough, and I find that exhausting. It is exhausting to consider that as much as I view myself as an ally, I will forever be trying to prove that the snake on my shoulder doesn’t bite.
And so I return to giving myself permission to balls up.
Because despite my racial privilege, I know how it feels to be marginalized in pretty much every other way. And I know how much I appreciate those people who use their privilege to shine a light on areas that much of the world would rather remain hidden. The ugliness of poverty and mental illness, the objectification of people in the LGBTQQIA community. The erasure of those with physical and developmental disabilities. The list goes on.
And so I sit here, with this mixture of sadness and rage, and I witness the atrocities committed against POC, and I feel utterly helpless. Because asshats like Brock Turner go free, but Jeronimo Yanez is acquitted on all charges.
This is not news. That is, this is nothing new. It is noteworthy because advances in technology have now given everyone their very own video camera that they carry in their pocket, so there is more awareness of the kind of thing that happens. But awareness, clearly, is not enough.
I am reminded of the 1996 movie, “A Time to Kill.” If you aren’t familiar, it tells the story of a Black man in the South who is on trial for the murder of the two white men who raped and nearly murdered his little girl. In the closing speeches, Matthew McConaughey’s character, Jake Brigance, makes this statement.
I set out to prove a black man could receive a fair trial in the south, that we are all equal in the eyes of the law. That’s not the truth, because the eyes of the law are human eyes — yours and mine — and until we can see each other as equals, justice is never going to be evenhanded. It will remain nothing more than a reflection of our own prejudices, so until that day we have a duty under God to seek the truth, not with our eyes and not with our minds where fear and hate turn commonality into prejudice, but with our hearts — where we don’t know better.
This has always stayed with me. It’s a simple enough statement in a 20-year-old film. And we don’t get it. We still don’t get it. And obviously, it isn’t a problem unique to the American South. We like to pretend that it is. Localize it, so that it isn’t our problem. Not us. “Not all white people…” Maybe not. But enough white people to rig the system in their favor and maintain it at any cost.
By the way, Carl Lee Hailey, the man on trial in the film, is acquitted.
“That is what Fiction means.”