The Wrong Side of History
Let's start out with I'm racist and move on from there. This is dedicated to anyone who has ever said #AllLivesMatter.
Where were you, when you first heard #BlackLivesMatter? Was it on twitter or was it on the news? Did you view it as a statement or the slogan for a campaign?
Let me clear it up: It's a cry for help. It is a plea to see injustice and how just leaving the house while being Black invites a fear that this might be the last time.
As a white man, I don't need to worry about if today is going to be the day I cross paths with the wrong cop at the wrong time. I've had many run-ins with the cops, only half of which have resulted in a citation and none of them have been arrests. That's privilege.
For a long time, I thought it was because I was a smooth talker and could charm my way out of a ticket. That's naivety.
I'll always remember the first time I was pulled over. The cop let me off with a warning and explicitly told me that, “[he] did not want to tarnish my clean record.” That's white supremacy.
Right now, there are riots going on around the country. If you believe all lives matter, you might be thinking, “This is not the way to go about change, they should protest peacefully.” Let me tell you about one such peaceful protest.
You may have heard about Colin Kaepernick. Who am I kidding? Of course you know him. You hate him, just speaking his name aloud sizzles and scathes off your tongue. He's the guy that ruined football by disrespecting America.
Your Sunday routine was off week after week because of a peaceful protest. Even after he was fired, he's still in the news and you say it's just a publicity stunt. “He doesn't even believe that Black lives matter, he's just trying to back pedal after the backlash,” you say.
All your anger from one man taking a knee, peacefully.
You're racist. We're all a little racist and I'm going to share my racism with you, so that hopefully you'll see that not all lives matter.
My high school wasn't segregated, but you would never be able to tell that from the cafeteria during lunch. In class, we all had Black friends, but at lunch, there was a section of tables called “Africa”.
I was the guy in school that would do pretty much anything for a dollar, so I took any dare as long as it wouldn't cause me permanent harm. The most shameful dare I ever accepted was for $5 to go sit in Africa.
I had the most shit-eating grin on my face, just imagine a generic white teenager clearly starting trouble and approaching a table of Black teenagers. I sat down at an open seat. Everyone was dead silent as one guy stood up. We made eye contact in such a way that made me feel incredibly ashamed. It probably lasted half a second, but it felt like hours and I left quietly afterwards.
That was the first time I realized I was racist, but this is the first time I've recorded that thought.
In the second grade, we learned about prejudice and discrimination. Basically some people are treated differently based on the color of their skin and that it's wrong.
This knowledge alone gave me power over racism. I could never be racist because I knew it existed and I would be able to pick it out in a line-up.
I've never been able to do it successfully. I wonder, can you?
If you're lucky, your Black friend will share their experiences with you, but you'll cut them off and gaslight them. This is you failing to identify racism. Next time, believe your friend because their life is unfathomably different from your own.
In high school, we read Huckleberry Finn.
We were taking turns reading through the book aloud in class. I was the first one to arrive at the n-word. I paused. I knew this word was wrong. Should I skip over it? Should I say it out loud? Should I just say “n-word”?
I looked over at my teacher, puzzled and she stopped the class.
She gave a lecture on how using the n-word takes away the power of the n-word.
From then on, I used it, soft-a, hard-r, and derivative forms. I was doing my part to help eliminate racism by taking away it's power. I never used it as an insult, but I always peppered my jokes with it when the mood struck.
There's one joke in particular I'm ashamed of, where a Black bartender gets insulted by a chinese customer and involves racial slurs for both. I told this joke frequently and I genuinely believed I was doing my part to help end racism; a two-for-one.
If you have ever heard this joke from me, I am so, so sorry. I'm sorry I used the n-word for any reason at all and for every time I used it, no excuses.
In college, some friends and I went on this quest to find this fictional graveyard we found on a website. It was “The Alphabet Graveyard” and the legend was the gravekeeper would dig up and re-organize the graves to be in alphabetical order for every fresh corpse; a lot of hard work and dedication.
We eventually found a graveyard, but it wasn't the graveyard. As we're standing there hanging out, someone pointed out a large area of disturbed ground. Joking around, if all the graves had been meticulously alphabetized, what was that?
And I said, “Slave graves.” And we all laughed, but a part of me felt ashamed of it. This racist joke about a mass grave felt less funny to me somehow, like my edgy, dark humor crossed a line. It felt like I wasn't taking away power from racism, but somehow adding to it.
Dwelling on it over the years, it's sat wrong with me because of what's left unsaid from that joke. It implies that Black lives don't matter.
In addition to doing anything for a dollar in high school, I also hustled at any opportunity. Anything I could flip to make a buck, I'd do it. My most notable achievement was selling giant Pixy Stix. $10 for a box of 50 and I'd sell them for a buck a piece. I could sell a hundred in a day.
I was a controversial figure from this act, some viewed me as an entrepreneur and others a criminal. I heard an entire freshman class wrote their own names down when a teacher tried to get them to snitch on me. This gave me power.
Regardless of the perception of my clearly illegal antics, their silence enabled me to keep doing what I was doing at no cost to themselves. If anything, they benefited from a continuous supply of sugar.
I wonder, would they have done the same if I was Black? When the administration finally caught up to me, would they have been as lenient? There was zero repercussions for me, outside a couple verbal warnings. Not even a pink slip.
Eric Garner was the first time I saw myself in a Black man. He was murdered while being arrested on an accusation for selling loose cigarettes. As someone that hustled, I knew this wasn't a million-dollar enterprise. That's just a thing to do to roughly break even on your own pack of smokes, maybe you come up a few bucks extra.
In 2014, Eric said, “I can't breathe” eleven times on video before he ultimately passed away. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer responsible for Eric's fate was finally terminated in 2019. For Eric's family, that's five years not knowing if there is justice for a Black life.
I don’t even want to see another video of a person being choked out. Because it wasn’t supposed to happen to him. It’s not supposed to happen. I should not be here standing with my brother, fatherless. I should be standing here with my father. But Pantaleo took that away from me on 7/17. Yes, he’s fired. But the fight is not over. We will continue to fight.
- Emerald Garner, public statement on Pantaleo's termination
What is the fight Emerald is referring to? When will the fighting end?
The first time I truly was challenged in my racism was watching the documentary “13TH.” It presented a different history of America than I had either experienced or been taught. My gut reaction was that it was a propaganda film.
If it weren't for viewing it as a group of people and having a discussion afterwards, I'd probably still believe that and have never thought about the film since. Leaving with an open mind and it now being a few years later, I've found the film to only scratch the surface.
The racism faced every day by Black americans, whether overt, covert, or micro, is relentless. News of another Black death at the hands of an officer, leaves them tiresome, weary, but most importantly scared. Will the next time be me or my family?
In the face of injustice, silence only perpetuates injustice. My shame of my own racism has kept me silent. Being called racist isn't the worst thing that can happen to you. Being silent in the face of injustice is.
The protests now are the same protests that have been happening for years. You might be tempted to attribute them to dissatisfaction with the president, but they've been happening since before he was even running for election. That said, he certainly doesn't help ease tensions, due to the fact that he frequently tweets racist things.
The protests this time are happening because of George Floyd's murder. He was suffocated by a white officer's knee on his neck as he uttered, “I can't breathe.” Does this sound familiar?
In the days to come, there's going to be more protests. You're going to have opinions on those protests, but I urge you to please think for a second. You're at a crossroads here.
You can either listen to what protestors are saying and begin to educate yourself on inequality in America. Or you can follow the news that will paint them any which way and you'll nod along and continue being racist.
Many people will agree the looting is not productive, so maybe you can start there for common ground, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater here.
At the very least, before you open your mouth next time about Kaepernick's knee on Football Sunday, remember the knee on George Floyd's neck.
All this anger is from one man taking a knee, forcefully.
Because it's not just one knee, it's not just one bad apple, it's not just one life, and it's not just one protest. It is another piece of evidence of systemic racism, that starts in our schools and ends with either mass incarceration in for profit prisons or murder by cops.
If you're scared for a few days a year because of protests in cities you're not even near, imagine being Black everyday. Statistically, Black lives don't matter anywhere. Just Google, “What happened in Tulsa?”
And you have the gall to say all lives matter.
You're on the wrong side of history.