I’ve been thinking about #Ferguson (not just the place, you see, but the happening—like Vietnam the war, not just the country) and Tamir Rice, and how these tragedies join an uninterrupted thematic patterning of race relations in our country. I think it’s easier for white people to process (or ignore) these as isolated events, rather than disturbing motifs. So I’m going to put my thoughts out there, however malformed and incoherent they might be, because I think it’s better that we talk about this, rather than ignore it. This is a bit different than the norm on this blog, but I think it has everything to do with public education.
There are wounds in this country we can’t pretend away. Wounds so deep they surface visible in the skin.
White people may only know this subconsciously, flinching when a black male crosses their radar. Black people probably can’t forget it, saddled to an everpresent self-awareness. How one comports oneself in mixed company, when around the presence of a policeman, when in a downtown department store.
So it’s important to bring this to the fore. To hash it out, however convoluted, via blog posts, protests, and media feeds. To experience that discomfort, and contemplate how it relates to the deepseated longsuffering of a community.
But I have the sense that so long as white and black people live wholly segregated lives, both culturally and geographically, then the problems of skin will remain perennial. It’s hard to empathize with someone when you lack any context beyond what’s portrayed on a screen.
I respect the inclination of some in the black community to choose to remain separate from white people.
But I do not respect the inclination of white people to self-segregate.
I believe that our society has an obligation to promote inclusion and diversity, both racial and economic. And by promote, I mean by the force of law.
Let me rephrase that in yet more stark terms: I believe that white people should be forced to live and work alongside black and brown people. And I believe that wealthier people should be forced to live and work alongside poorer people.
Some will say that we tried that out already with federally mandated busing to diversify schools, and look how that turned out? Except we didn’t really try it. Not for long enough to have any kind of impact.
It’s the natural tendency of human beings for like to congregate with like, and for the rich to get richer. So in the absence of any regulation, economic and racial segregation will only increase.
When Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in June about a case for reparations, this made sense to me in terms of a “moral reckoning” for our nation. We can only begin to square up with our sordid history of race relations when we take concrete action in the form of policies that create inclusive housing, schools, and businesses.
It’s convenient for white people to either pretend blackness, as a concept and as a representation of the divisive history of the United States, doesn’t exist at all, or to pretend that the problems that stem from that blackness are something that they can swoop in and fix, like a superhero.
I don’t think any problems will be fixed until they become all of our problems. And they won’t become all of our problems until we live and work together.
That’s my take on this. Let me know what you think.