So, in yet another critique of Occupy Wall Street–rather, the criticism of activism that operates in a standard of reductionism, to front with a message of “inclusiveness”, this response I got on Twitter…
“I would just appreciate the people who are standing up for you right now and be happy.”
That led to yet another tiring explanation about race v. class issues, and…sigh…whatever.
Yet, I want to consider that response for a moment: why should I be simply be happy and appreciate people “standing up for me right now”? Why? Because they’re there; because they merely exist?
The people “standing up for me right now” have little but a clue of my challenges and struggles—not just now, but in thirty-two years of breathing on this planet. They haven’t much of an idea of the things I’ve seen and experienced in that lifetime. And as such, I feel no compulsion whatsoever to merely applaud an effort. Many people have made “efforts,” but haven’t finished the deal. I’m past the point of congratulations for “efforts.” You want that? Find the teachers in school who told you that it never mattered what the score was in a game, but that you gave it your best.
Cause I’ll tell you straight out that I’ve given my best, and guess what? Still on the bench.
But I should simply appreciate and be thankful for people standing up for me right now, right?
When over four-tenths of the 12.2% of the U.S. population—people who look like me— are incarcerated, yet you try to sell me on the idea of legalization of narcotics as if it would solve that issue? Meanwhile, I’m in a neighborhood where drugs, alcohol, and prostitution persist as a social problem. And nobody stands up for the people who want it out of here; no, they’re Uptown, or in Ballantyne or Steele Creek, or any of the other tony little neighborhoods here where everyone bails to; mostly safe from this crap.
But let me be thankful for people “standing up for me” now?
When I went through an educational system in Prince George’s County that wasn’t concerned with educating me, as much as they were with tranquilizing me with Ritalin; going to special education schools where a White face was rare—probably 5-9 out of 100 students. No effort by the school to transition me for college; it was all about institutional control to a system. I didn’t get recommended for colleges; I got recommended for an assisted living facility in Baltimore, and a summer jobs program.
Was there anyone—save for my mother—standing up for me, then?
Was there anyone standing up for me when I couldn’t get bank loans to try and advance my education in 2007, for a career field I thought I was good for: broadcasting?
Was there anyone standing up for me when politicians from the right attacked us year after year, day after day, as lazy and unmotivated sloths, sucking at the teat of government assistance?
When President Clinton instituted welfare reforms, nobody stood up then, either.
The recent housing crisis was primarily based in subprime lending—lending directly targeted to minorities under the guise that they, too, could participate in the fabled “American Dream”. And that dream sank for many of them—for many of us—because, hell; we couldn’t afford the bill…but nobody stepped in to stop any of it.
Standing up for me? Please.
I’m supposed to act like police brutality and overreach is this brand new concept, when I’ve been hearing that noise since I was at least 10 years old. Once, in 1999, I was pulled over for speeding in Hyattsville, Maryland and surrounded by about five police cars from local and the Park Police; the car was searched, and they found nothing but dust bunnies, but…five police cars. For a traffic stop.
Or the time I was detained by police at Fort Meade (speeding, again…lead foot Willie) and questioned about some neighborhood where drugs were prevalent, as if I knew anything about it…
…were any of these people who I’m supposed to be so grateful for standing up for me then? Or when I got laid off? Or on any of the several trips to social services for aid?
No. No. No.
So how dare anyone—I don’t care if it is some random person on Twitter—tell me what I ought to appreciate and applaud be thankful for, when the honest-to-God truth about is: I’m thankful enough to have survived as long as I have in this state of flux. I’m thankful to have the support of a great mother, who I’ve put under a strain and will never be able to repay for the things she’s done, as well as friends and strangers. This idea that I must be thankful for a bunch of protests and protesters who I’ve never heard one whit from until the middle of September of 2011 is absurd and ludicrous, and ignorant of every damn day of my lived experience since I’ve had any cognizance of it.
Let me be frank: I know the people who’ve stood up for me, and they aren’t camping in the damn park, or being smug, self-regarding polemics on social media platforms.
I already know how bad it’s been for the middle class; we grew up middle class—we went from living in one of the best townhomes in Suburban Maryland in 1987, to an apartment condo in 1990, to another in 1991, and evicted in early 1993, where we lost most of everything, and people were still trying to take things from us on the street. Since then, it’s been a trudge uphill from the edge of middle class. And now that I live on my own, I’m not middle class anymore. Not in this neighborhood.
Attempting to explain to me about struggles of minorities and the purpose of the Civil Rights movement as if I wasn’t one, and I never got an education on it (and a unique education it was) is a joke. That’s acting as if I don’t know what this country did to people like Paul Robeson, who was banned from singing in this country over what the HUAC in Congress did to him. Few stood up for his right to merely sing here, back then.
But you’re going to explain to me what Civil Rights means now, right?
No. Sit down.
Pull a history book or three out.
Read up. From Dred Scott onward.
Then get back to me.
I really need for people to stop trying to reduce the experiences of minorities into a context which they’re comfortable with; to start dealing in facts in evidence, instead of ideals and wishful thinking. It’s nice to want everyone to be colorblind, and pretend that we’re “all one people”, but: ask a brown-skinned Muslim man about that on the street. Have you ever seen a group of people turn their back to the street to avoid being seen and then being beat by “their fellow Americans?” This, in the direct aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks? I have. And don’t tell me you haven’t seen the Latinos converge in massive numbers at a spot, looking for day labor and a chance at working for a pittance. I see a lot of people out there, and not one of them look like me, or many of you.
So don’t feed me this Disney nonsense about a colorblind society, when my own eyes have seen that we’re not yet in, or even close to that society; not post-Civil Rights Movement, not post-Civil War, and not now.
And if all you can think to say when I bring this up is to go to the “class” argument; where valid arguments about systemic bigotry are constantly reduced to “it’s not about that, it’s about corporatism/money/Wall Street/The 1%/etc., then please: stop and ask yourself how likely it is, if we were actually “equal”, for you to get a loan or a job or an opportunity to start a business, apart from me. Think long and hard about it.
Maybe that’s the point when you’ll begin to understand why we’re not out there with you, or simply won’t applaud “efforts.” The way I see it, and I speak only for myself: I’m being asked to be in solidarity with a group of people who I’ve never seen in solidarity with me on much of anything, ever. And for what? So they can get back to level field, and I’m still climbing up from the hole? Either we’re going for a level playing field, or we’re not. Either we’re going to address these systemic problems which persist in high minority unemployment and a minority underclass that cannot economically compete on level, or we’re not. And if we’re not going to address these issues, or just going to be told to address them apart from the main theme? What the hell is the point?
And that’s why I’m not just simply going to be “thankful” that people are speaking up for me, or merely applaud. In fact, the idea that people are “speaking” on my behalf is a lie. I’ve been speaking up for seven years, on a variance of topics concerning issues with politics, sports, race, and gender. I don’t need anyone to say for me what I can’t express in writing, or speak from my own mouth. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to ask permission to do it. I speak for me, because no one else has been or does at present.
If only people would start listening.
But by default, I know they won’t. Well, not the people who need to, anyway.