Sunday, June 14, 2020

Dear Past Me: Shut up.

True confession: I straight-up stole this photo from Google Maps. It's a satellite image of Washington, DC, bounded by 17th Street NW on the left (west), 15th Street NW on the right (east), K Street NW at the top (north), and the White House at the bottom (south). Your cross streets, from the bottom up, are Pennsylvania Avenue NW, H Street NW, I (sometimes written as Eye) Street NW. (Fun fact #1: There's no J Street in DC. Fun fact #2: If you go one block farther west on H Street, you'll come to the building I worked in, back before COVID-19 sent us all home.)

The stretch of 16th Street NW that you can see on this map is the part that's been renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered city crews to paint the slogan on the street after the Trump administration ordered federal forces to clear the peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park (all that green between Pennsylvania Avenue and H Street) with tear gas and flashbang grenades -- all so that President Trump could stroll across the park and hold up a Bible outside St. John's Episcopal Church (on the northeast corner of 16th and H) for a photo op.

You can't see it very well in this photo, but there's more painted on the street at the end of the slogan. It's the DC city symbol -- three stars above two bars -- which was put there by the city, and an additional phrase added by Black Lives Matter themselves: "Defund The Police".

Like a lot of white folks, I was taken aback by the wording. Defund the police? Like, disband them? Surely you don't mean we'd go without police protection at all.

On Facebook, I shared a post of George Takei's, in which he suggested "demilitarize the police" would be a better way to put it. I agreed with him, and I went on to say:

[B]y stepping straight to "defund," telegraphing they're not interested in compromise. They want all police to go.
It's the same issue I had with repurposing the word "privilege." That used to mean the 1%, the people born with silver spoons in their mouths. Now we're told every white person is privileged. I understand now what they mean by using "privilege" in this context, but I didn't to start with - and I was angry, frankly, to be lumped in with the rich and powerful who are controlling all of us.
That was a week ago. In the interim, I've read a number of articles and posts from black folks who have detailed the microaggressions they put up with, day after day, year in and year out.

Now, white folks face microaggressions, too. I certainly have. Random strangers on the street have felt the need to tell me I'm fat. Other people have accused me of being smart, as if that's a bad thing. (Although Americans do view intellectuals with suspicion. And everybody hates a smart woman.)

But here's the thing: I've never lived in fear of my life for being fat and smart. I've never had to worry about a cop pulling me over for a minor infraction and then killing me because of my brainpower -- or my waistline.

So now I understand that after years and years of experiencing these daily microaggressions, and of hearing platitudes from politicians about how things must change, and of watching police kill black folks for no reason and wondering who's next -- I can see how you might not want to couch your demands in acceptable language. You might want to shock white folks. Because then maybe they'll pay attention and actually do something about these injustices.

In short: Past Me, shut up.

These moments of bloggy humility have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up, people!

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