The past week has been an extremely depressing time in the media. Our screens have been saturated with images of rioting in Baltimore. Up to this point, there have been countless articles and blogs addressing related issues, such as the misrepresentation of the situation in Baltimore, where in fact thousands have marched peacefully through the streets, in protest of the death of 25-year old Freddie Gray last month. Even more depressing than the situation in Baltimore (and by that I mean the injustices, chaos and misrepresentation) are the reactions from friends, family and colleagues on social media.
Ironically, in times like these I’m more uncomfortable with scrolling through my timeline than turning on the television. Many of us already know the media has an agenda, and that people of color are few and far between in terms of leadership, management and production roles for media companies. We can identify which networks are conservative and which journalists have negative bias, and although it’s not right, it’s expected. What isn’t as easily detected, are the prejudices and offensively complacent attitudes of people we have come to like, love or respect. I’m not claiming that everybody has close and intimate relationships with all of their followers, but generally speaking, if you have chosen to friend them, there’s a good chance that you know them, or at the very least, don’t hold any significant negative connotations. That being said, it becomes very disheartening to see the posts and photos that begin to appear in times like these. It’s uncomfortable to know that somebody you’ve allowed to be so close to you physically or emotionally, could completely misunderstand the injustices experienced by the group you identify with, or in some cases, blatantly (and ignorantly) place labels on a situation that could just as easily directly impact you or your loved one.
I am a black female. I have a black brother. I have a black father. Someday (I hope, or used to hope) I may have a black son. All the love in the world can’t control a person’s actions and decisions. They are (and will be) their own men. That being said, if something similar were to happen to one of them, and they were killed under “unknown” circumstances, when in that moment they were not an immediate threat to somebody’s life, you better believe I would be irate at all involved, including anybody who chose to label them based on the color of their skin or their mistakes in life. Shame on ANYBODY who is negatively labeling and justifying the death of the deceased based on their poorest choices: choices that you’ve never had to make, because you’ve never been in such a persistent, discouraging and/or impoverished position where it became a viable option.
Let me say this. I personally don’t agree with rioting. I don’t agree with rioting or looting when it’s in reaction to an instance of civil injustice, and I don’t agree with it when it’s in reaction to a won or lost football game, where interestingly I failed to see hardly any posts or opinions about the rioting that took place following Ohio’s State’s National Championship Win. Nevertheless, I understand it. My career and personal experience have allowed me to be educated on the realities of injustice in our society, a privilege, I’m realizing, that has been denied to many. We can all go back and forth with opinions and perspectives, but we can also speak with facts. Racism is real. Structural racism is real. There are systems in place that do put minorities (especially poor minorities) in positions of perpetual disadvantage. Let’s not forget that only 50 years ago it was common knowledge and law, that structures and systems were created to separate and oppress people of color. This isn’t something social activists are making up; you can read it in a book. That being said, it shouldn’t be surprising that a. there are lingering effects of that structure (to say the LEAST) and b. that today (only 50 years later) this structural racism and oppression could still be taking place explicitly or implicitly. I work for an applied research institute where we’ve recently released the third edition of our State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review, an annual report on implicit bias and the role that it plays in multiple domain areas including education, the criminal justice system, employment and housing. All three editions are filled with critical, yet understandable, information and statistics on implicit bias. Part of the report’s popularity is due to the increasing instances of police brutality on unarmed black men in our country. In fact, we’ve been approached by numerous police departments for training on the subject matter. (If interested in reading click here). Most important to mention is the fact that we ALL have bias, both positive and negative; I hope that ties into my conclusion of this blog.
Everybody in this country has the RIGHT to their own beliefs, opinions and values. The point of my writing isn’t to condemn or villianize anybody who disagrees with the happenings in Baltimore, or my opinion. The purpose is to practice what I believe is my social responsibility to speak out against injustice, as well as the ignorance, labeling and complacency that actually have a bigger effect on our countries stagnancy than explicit racism and prejudice. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated in his 1964 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
My goal is not to offend, so I certainly hope I have not done so, but to provide perspective and encourage understanding, so that I can continue to have positive and respectful engagements with those around me, with the dream that hopefully my writing opens up one person’s mind, just a little bit more.
Finally, since there have been so many Dr. King quotes popping up in response to Baltimore, I wanted to conclude with one myself:
“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?…It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity”.