On #CrimingWhileWhite

I’ve grown weary hearing of the Michael Browns, Tamir Rices, and Eric Garners of the world. I’m thankful that this dialogue surrounding racially-charged police brutality has finally grown so loud it cannot be ignored. I’m disappointed in and embarrassed by this country that still remains unable to sort out something so simple as racial equality. I’m saddened by the loss of so many young men who were deeply loved by their friends and families and communities. I’m sorry that their lives were defined by these tragedies, rather than the untold promises their futures held. I’m furious that these injustices continue to be the norm. I’m tired of hearing story after story, week after week, indicating that each horrible instance has not brought the necessary awareness and caution but instead has paved the way for more violence and death. I’m worried that similar news stories will continue to break such that we become numbed into indifference.

I’m also filled with confusion about where the solution lies. We need to change the national narrative about race, to challenge the stereotypes that lead some members of our country to see things that aren’t there, to treat others in ways they would never treat someone that looked more like themselves. I feel so impotent regarding what I, or anyone, can do.

And ultimately, I am still a white woman. A person who is less likely to be pulled over by virtue of the color of my skin. Someone a police officer is more inclined to let off for a minor transgression of the law, rather than allowing the interaction to escalate to dangerous, violent, even fatal levels. This brings with it a level of power and authority that a black person doesn’t have because my whiteness inherently and unfairly means my voice is more valued by society. But it also separates me from the reality of what is occurring because my skin color protects me from injustice. By virtue of my race, I cannot imagine living in fear of the consequences of others’ reactions to my own blackness.

I was intrigued by a story I read here about a new Twitter hashtag, #CrimingWhileWhite. These tweets offer examples of how our police force routinely lets white people off the hook for a variety of offenses in ways that black people never could. Maybe these are things that should be overlooked as travails of youthful stupidity or maybe they shouldn’t – that’s not what is at issue. We see again and again how race, not the offense, determines arrest rates. We see how white people are not targets, are not viewed as threatening or dangerous or in need of punishment, are not at such high risk of having their life derailed by the very police force that is here to protect them.

I love that this is raising a discussion among white people. As white people take that first step of recognizing their own privilege, I hope to hear more from those whose voices are, for better or worse, the loudest in our society. I think Chris Rock was really onto something when he talked about the misguided dialogue on racial progress: having a black president doesn’t signify black progress because African Americans have long been qualified for the presidency. It’s a sign of white progress that white Americans have finally recognized and affirmed this. His example demonstrates how the responsibility to improve racial equality lies not with black people, but with whites.

What we can and should do still avails me. Though talking alone will not solve these problems, there is nothing else that seems right to me, no other place to start. I’m at a loss as to which words, if any, are the ones that will change the thoughts and actions of others for the better. But it is only by testing them out that we can determine which words are the magic ones.

So talk about race, violence, police brutality, inequality, blackness, whiteness, peace, segregation with friends, with family, with neighbors, with co-workers, with community members. Engage in conversation through public dialogue, long-distance phone conversations, small talk among strangers, call-in radio shows, outraged social media outlets, peaceful protest. Recognize that this isn’t a problem with a simple solution. It will require a sea change in how we view a whole sector of our population. It is only through talking, sharing experiences and reflections and opinions and ideas, that we can approach a new dialogue, one that views people of all races as deserving of protection, equal justice, and a chance at living.

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