I am not comfortable with the progress that you might suggest that we, as a nation family, have made with regard to discussing, processing and effectively countering racism and prejudice.
As far back as the 1700s, well before slavery ended and long after it began, there were citizens both calling for its end and supporting it as an essential institution. The very institution, beginning in 1619, was officially abolished until 1865. In between its inception in Jamestown and ending with the “Proclamation”, there was a great deal of hand-wringing, shouting, threat of secession, and eventual war.
We proudly point to the end of the institution of slavery, but typically say very little about the heinous practices which characterized chattel slavery, as those Africans who were victims of this for 246 years. Their lives. Their children’s lives. Their grandchildren’s lives. Beginning to end. For 246 years. The practice was allowed to be carried out, legally, in the United States.
For 200 plus years, the can was kicked down the road, the belief being that it would all get better with time. That future generations would evolve, and the matter of racism would either be rightly addressed or be extinguished.
We still harbor parts of this belief. We still kick the can down the road.
Into our present psychology enter the matters of the Ammon Bundy group out in Oregon. Recently completing trial. Also entering into our present psychology is the matter of the Sioux protest in Standing Rock, out in North Dakota. Very interesting case studies about how far we still have to go, and how resistant we are to be in the present, and do what must be done.
Ammon Bundy and his 6 compatriots are all White. This is an important detail. Six of the seven are men. This is also critical. See, these things provide a context, though we would like to delude ourselves into thinking that meritocracy trumps all elements of privilege and prejudice.
The Bundy group occupied a federal wildlife building in Oregon for 41 days. They were armed. They faced a number of conspiracy charges. And if you blinked, you missed them being acquitted of these charges by a federal jury. During their 41 day occupation, a most interesting social experiment was taking place. America was having an in the moment conversation about domestic terrorism, and was made to create narratives around who can protest, and how, and what is truly peaceful protest and what authorities should do about those protests.
Middle America did not appear to fear the actions of Bundy and his group, which can only be described here as a militia. Even with their rhetoric of refusal to leave, and domain, and brandishing assault rifles, they were not widely demonized.
A stark contrast from the fears which immediately spread around Black Lives Matter protests, and the fears around those protestors carrying weapons, and supposedly clashing with police, and references to them being a hate group. A disturbingly different narrative than the Bundy group.
And we may see that clearly, but many will still wish to kick that can, this can, down the road.
Many in the Sioux Nation, often forgotten members of our nation family, often left out of our dialogue around racism and prejudice, are protesting the placement and development of an interstate oil pipeline, The Dakota Access Pipeline, which is placed just outside of the Standing Rock reservation.
The protesters have refused to leave. Are exercising their right to peaceful protest. They are effectively countering what they believe are environmental threats and corporate greed, and they are being forcibly removed by law enforcement. The narrative describes “violent clashes” with law enforcement.
Clashes which never developed with the Bundy group. The armed Bundy group. The group which seized a federal building. For 41 days.
Some of us would rather parse these things. We rather develop an independent lens to view these events through. I find that to be disturbingly and obtusely naïve. Were Native/First Nation or African-American protestors to seize a federal building, they would have been met immediately with armed resistance. They would have been stripped of their weapons. Immediate arrests would have been made. There would not have been 1 day of occupation of a federal building. Somewhere, on this part of the road, you know this, even if you wouldn’t admit this in polite company.
Kicking the can of racism and privilege down the road has served the purpose of maintaining White privilege, and more readily, White Male privilege. BLM protestors can no more march peacefully down city streets where they pay taxes as citizens than Native/First Nation members can protect their land from occupation and corporations. Bundy and his crew were given 41 days’ worth of benefit of the doubt. Their lives valued and protected. Their rights always preserved.
As men, and fathers, and families, I would suggest that the can should stop here. As discomfiting as it is for some of us to discuss race, our refusal to do so has simply created the environment where the right to protest, to protect one’s life and home in a dignified manner, is reserved only for the majority. These have been developed as White and largely Male privileges, and violate the public’s sensibility, and sense of safety, whenever other segments seek to engage in these practices and exercise their rights.
Our refusal to stop the progression of the can, our focus on making racism a future generation’s problem to solve, has strengthened the adverse impact of prejudice, hate and racism.
Perhaps, just a bit of courage and purpose will do. Ask yourselves what narrative you are creating in conversations with your friends. With family. In your own heads. How are we, as men, and as people, addressing the living, breathing reality of racism in America?
What we have created is a dystopian emotional landscape where protest, where asserting personhood, demanding dignity, is somehow antithetical to patriotism. We have created this lie, publicly, to maintain privilege for the few. It is the only reality we know.
That fear, fear of the necessary act and thought and change, is harming the vulnerable, and leaving the remainder in a state wherein justifications for oppression and inactivity are produced almost daily. Bundy and his set can naturally walk away. BLM and Sioux protestors can face public scorn, criticism, or worse in many instances, complete and uninterested disregard for their plight.
I don’t know if equality is the goal. Not from here. I figure the goal should be human dignity, and fairness, whatever that means in our context. It begins with us. Stopping that can. Removing our foot from it. And doing the necessary work. Privilege isn’t privilege if we all have it. Mayhaps, that is what so many of you fear. What we might look like, as nation family, were we to have to live in fairly equitable standing. Maybe we need to find that out.
Photo: Getty Images