It’s that time of the year: classes end tomorrow, final projects are due soon, exams are nearly upon us. Stress is the name of the game now for all students, and I’m feeling it. But it’s not just my unwritten papers that are giving me stress. In fact, I’m hardly thinking about them.
Instead, I’ve been following the nightmare that is the stories from Ferguson and New York, how two grand juries decided not to indict two white police officers for the roles in the murders of two unarmed black men. The first time it happened, when Michael Brown’s murderer walked away with no repercussions, it was an outrage. The second time it happened, when Eric Garner’s murderer was completely let off the hook, it… well, words fail me. I don’t know what to call it. A gross miscarriage of justice? An indefensible error in the system? Or a glaring example of exactly what the system does regularly? A gaping hole in the curtain that has revealed to the general public that the problem is much larger and much more heinous than we might have realized?
I’m embarrassed and ashamed to be an American right now. Over lunch today with a Korean friend, I struggled to explain what was happening, what an indictment is and why these two policement weren’t indicted, why protests turn into riots and how this can be justified, what people mean by ‘respectability politics.’ I tried to rearticulate some very well-spoken arguments I’ve read over the past week, and I tried to really get at what is bothering me about the whole issue, when on the surface it doesn’t have to affect me. What I mean is, I could choose to ignore this entirely and continue studying assiduously for my final exams. I could ignore my activist friends’ posts on my Facebook news feed, or only click on the pretty pictures and funny videos, and just wait it out until this blows over. I have a good excuse, don’t I? I’m a busy student.
But I can’t get my mind off of what’s going on, and I think it’s not right to ignore it. In fact, I think that as an Asian American, I have a responsibilty to stand in solidarity with other communities of color, because we have more in common than you think. As a gay man, I can’t stand on my high horse and scold rioters for their behavior, lest I forget that it was a riot that birthed the LGBTQ rights movement. As a Christian, it’s like — HEY, isn’t the whole point of this religion to see to the victory of God’s justice in a broken, sinful world? I can’t imagine that God is very happy with this state of affairs, or with the lukewarm, hands-off response of the American Church. I keep thinking about how my various privileges actually license my ability to ignore what’s happening, how I could refrain from weeping for my country or my people and no one would mind; no one I love would be hurt.
To remain silent in response to systemic oppression is, I believe, to condone it and to be complicit in its violence. For me to remain silent is exactly what the oppressor wants. I would love to attend a protest — I’m so proud of all my friends who have been lending their bodies to help with critical mass — but the timing is just so inopportune. Finals. So I wrestle with guilt because I know what I should do (and what I actually want to do), but I don’t do it. I admit that I prioritize my own personal struggle above the collective struggle that’s happening in cities all across the country. Don’t we all do this at times, though?
Today, a campus activism group, the BlackOut Collective, staged a great protest in front of a campus cafe, refusing to allow anyone in for hours. I wanted to stay and listen, but I was on my way to meet my friend for lunch. And during that lunch, as I said before, I detailed my thoughts on everything that’s been happening. Maybe I did a little bit of educating; maybe I changed somebody’s mind. It would’ve been just a small thing, but at least it wasn’t silence.
Does any of this matter to you?
Word of the Day: marginalized, from the Latin marginalis, literally ‘written in the margins’ of a page of text. It refers to subgroups in a society that are isolated from or do not conform to the dominant group’s culture. The adjective marginal has been used in sociology since the 1920s, but the transitive verb marginalize was coined around 1970. Entire communities have been marginalized in the books of this country’s history; it’s high time we wrote our own damn story.
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And now, a list of links for further reading/listening. I’m less than qualified to speak about this issue compared to many other people, especially black people. My voice is less important than theirs are right now. Listen to them:
– “A Longform Reading List” on Autostraddle: a collection of essays, articles, and interviews, all black voices, that frame racism in America in history and theory.
– “The Ferguson Masterpost“: a kind of FAQ resource for people who want quick answers to a lot of the common questions being raised about the Michael Brown case, with dozens more links to other sources.
– “Unforgettable: The 10 Last Words of Unarmed Black Men“: exactly what it says it is. Powerful and heartbreaking.
– Two of Eric Garner’s children were interviewed by Katie Couric on how they feel about their father’s death and the momentum that it has given to a movement.
– A very harsh criticism of America and the way everything about it (its judicial system, its cities, its politics) was built to “brutalize black and brown people” on The Concourse.
– A little bit more on respectability politics and the argument-derailing, red herring of “black-on-black crime”. This one is also neat beacuse it includes a Pokémon reference!
– The blog post I read that first convicted me on this issue: Why Asian Americans might not want to speak out about Ferguson.
– And this TIME article on why they should. I think this one is a MUST READ for Asian Americans. This is not a black-vs.-white issue. It involves all minority races in this country, it involves our shared past (the model minority myth was “a doctored portrayal, which dates to 1966, […] intended to shame African-American activists whose demands for equal civil rights threatened a centuries-old white society… the puppeteering of one minority to slap the other’s wrist”), and it involves our uncertain future. We need to be better allies.
– A word of reproach to members of the LGBTQ community who denounce the violence of Ferguson-related protests, because they seem to have forgotten Stonewall. Also an excellent read.
– Lastly, the aforementioned lukewarm response to Ferguson posted on Christianity Today. This is the article I saw being passed around on Facebook the most. It calls for Christians to talk less and listen more. Good. But maybe not enough…