The “war” stops here
“All oppression creates a state of war.”—Simone de Beauvoir
It’s getting really hard to breathe around here, isn’t it?
Breath was easier when the noose was only tightening around the necks of people who looked different, who had less “power” and fell in the imaginary crevice known as “less than”. Even so, all those years of standing there and watching brown people get smacked down was a bit too much, even for us white people. Every time a black person was slapped in the face—a gasp, and you never get that breath back.
The word “spirit” has its roots in (latin) “aspira”, which is the foundation for the word “breath”. ReSPIRAtory system, perSPIRE, inSPIRE, eXPIRE…
“In the beginning… the BREATH (wind) of God moved across the waters”.: 1 Genesis 2
You see, breath doesn’t have a color. Breath is the color of God. (or whatever name you have for That.)
Back in the day, you’d come home from church, turn on the TV and see something crazy like white people getting away with murder, or little black children being barred from walking into a school, and you’d think:
Wow. That doesn’t seem very Christian. I wonder what Jesus would think about that?
Then you could go back to your life, which revolved around an identity that had nothing to do with race. That’s the privilege of being white: you don’t have to deal with that issue because, other than checking boxes on forms, its not an “identity”.
I didn’t grow up “white”
“White people” is a term only used when the conversation is relative to black or brown people. Not once did my family sit around the dinner table and talk about being “white”. I identified as “Sicilian” and “Irish”, which was enough of a problem. Trust me, anybody who’s a mix of Sicilian and Irish deserves a medal, wink wink. But I digress. We were “Catholic” and “working class,” and climbing out of that hole was tour de force enough. The Irish, Italians, Sicilians, Jews, Asians, Russians, and all the other immigrants have gone through the same initiation: hazing by the established dominant group, and the predictable struggle to become a part of that establishment. Which you can do if you appear to blend in.
So perhaps you’ll excuse us for not totally “getting” the pre-occupation with “race” or a perpetual struggle that doesn’t seem to get resolved. For most of us sons and daughters of immigrants, it takes about a generation or two. Hard to understand how it can go on for generation upon generation.
There used to be a popular T-shirt that read,
“It’s a Black thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
I used to see that and think, “well, fuck you.” Because I didn’t, you know, understand.
When you think you understand everything, that’s a sure sign you don’t understand much. Maybe the best thing about getting older is that you realize how little you do understand. Or maybe its the awareness that you’re running out of breaths, and each remaining breath becomes that much more precious.
I thought the problem – the Michael Brown story – was going to go away in a few days, like it always does. Every few days a new scandal to lighten the load for people like, ya know, Bill Cosby 😉
But then, before the foul odor of that mess disappeared into the ever-forgiving ether, the Eric Garner situation is in our faces. And this time, instead of hear-say and second hand reports, we have Big Brother to inform us. Bad news for those who abuse the power WE gave them. You’d think that would be enough of a deterrent from, say, putting an obviously ill person in a chokehold when he’s on the floor crying, “I can’t breathe.” I don’t know, that would be clue enough for me. But I’m the sensitive type, I guess.
Technology has its advantages & disadvantages
One advantage is that we can videotape everything so “we the people” have some degree of evidence when things go awry. A disadvantage is that we suffer from a cultural ADD. Our attention span is short. Things don’t stick for long. New bombs go off and distract us from yesterday’s noise…
Turns out the Michael Brown story wasn’t the bomb. It was just a spark on the wick before this dynamite blows. That wick was lit a LOOOOONG time ago, well before our time. Every now and then it burps, like little sparks doing the Ghost Dance as the wick matures.
Every time a breath went out, a spark howled on that wick. But it moseys along slowly, so you can fall asleep and have dreams like,
OK, I did my part.
It’s not so bad anymore.
People just need to get over it and start pulling themselves up.
Look, we have a black president. What more do you people want???
Then something else erupts. The noose tightens.
After a while, we start to realize we breath the same air. It dawns on some of us that we share a suffering. It binds us to one another.
The revolution of the 60’s saw many whites putting their necks on the line. Martin Luther King, Jr. was EVERYBODY’S hero. Some of us even got behind Malcolm X. Blacks&whites marched together like a band of Zebras on Fire. There were riots and marches and confrontations between police and We-The-Zebras. A lot of white people took their lumps, but it was a win. Jim Crow was struck down. We thought THAT was the dynamite blowing.
But today we’re more awake and living in the wake of that procession.
We realize the wick is still burning. It hasn’t reached the dynamite yet, and when that thing blows, its not black people rioting in the streets, and its not white people marching on Washington. Today, white people are facing off against each other and lobbing grenades that look like contentious meme’s and status updates.
A new Civil War is being played out on the killing fields of Twitter, Facebook, and Social Media. The delete button is the new “nuclear bomb”. When push comes to shove, turns out we’re all in this mosh pit; Black people, white people, elbows flying, heads butting, noses bleeding.
There’s such a thing as “Vicarious Trauma”, where you absorb some of the pain that another person experiences. We used to think we could witness suffering and not be touched by it. Now we know: there’s only so much breath to go around, and when the breath goes out on our brother’s flame, we all begin to suffocate.
We’re past the time for being “nice”, “kind”, or “denying” our biases. Enough of the dribbling out cotton-candy phrases like, “I don’t see color.” There’s no nutritional value in that. The arena we’re standing in calls for raw courage, honesty, and transparency.
This is the business of the Samurai. Bushido: we’re already dead. There’s no way to Namaste out of this one.
This is a fight for our collective soul being informed by a certain consciousness that nests in duality vs. oneness, or – better yet – the oneness inherent in diversity.
Because no, we’re not “all the same”.
And through the vessel of that awareness, we see that we are.
White people are going up against each other now because this isn’t even about race. Unconscious racism, masquerading as “political opinion” and the white-noise machine of denial, is nothing more than the expression of a certain consciousness. Other times it expresses itself as homophobia, sexism, extreme conservatism, unfair legistlation, economics, attacks against liberals, and even anti-moslem rhetoric. Its just different flavors of the same ice cream. And that consciousness is lethal to the “spirit” of this world. This is what we’re fighting for.
Perhaps the wick’s been taking so long to ignite because that bomb can’t go off until white people realize its sitting under our very own house. Good! Let it blow the roof off. Then we can get to the medicine, and it sounds like this:
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND. PLEASE HELP ME TO UNDERSTAND YOUR EXPERIENCE. “
Lets get that conversation going, in those words.
This stops here.Photo:Hallenser/Flickr