Thursday, August 18, 2016

Atlanta, Black Lives Matter, and Civil Action

So, those of you pushing back against the recent marches, traffic disruptions, protests, and particularly bristling at and dismissing comparisons to the civil rights marches of the 60s:

Listen, I know uncertainty is scary and stressful. And I know feeling the status quo get disrupted is equally scary and stressful, especially when things don't feel that bad from where you're standing.

However, at this point, the evidence is piling pretty high indicating that thus far, most of us have lived a life insulated from the challenges that large chunks of this country have had to deal with every day, making everything anywhere from a little bit more difficult than it has to be, all the way up to life threatening. This doesn't mean your life has been easy, but it does mean there are additional challenges you've never even really sniffed.

That sort of difficulty and danger on top of life itself is worth getting mad about. That's worth stopping traffic for. That's worth marching through cities over. That's worth gnashing teeth, waved signs, and a whole lot of "how dare you not take this seriously/how dare you make this about you."

The Civil Rights Movement is baked into the narrative of American history as a victory over evil. It was taught to many of us as a straight line inevitability. This starts with the emphasis on the founding fathers that tried to get slavery abolished in the constitutional convention but had to "table it in the name of compromise" (for 90 years?!) and the downplaying of Washington and Jefferson's own chattel slave holdings.

It's not a straight line. Very little in history is. It's taught as a narrative because it's easier to digest that way, but there are very few straight lines. Any primary source accounts you read speaking out against Dr. King's marches reveal hurled invective of the ugliest type, calling him things that even ardent racists know to avoid in polite company these days, but you'll also see the same sorts of quiet, insidious, 9th grade persuasive essay style dismissals and pleadings for peace, calm, orderly action over protest, an objection to disrupting the status quo, and an insistence that the world is the way it is as a result of natural behavior and in no way because the deck is stacked against the descendants of this country's original sin.

So maybe stop before you say "No, this is nothing like that" and recognize that you're in the middle of change and the narrative isn't written for you, yet. You have to look at the moving parts and recognize for yourself what may be wrong and how you can help or, in the fullness of time, where you want to say you stood when the end of the sentences you inhabit turned to question marks.

Stop before you explain to nobody in particular that the disenfranchised, angry, and scared need to act like they have the authority and comfort of simply going to a negotiation table with a system, a concept, and a culture that struggles to even acknowledge their complaint exists, or even worse, deliberately denies it out of fear of the complexity of the solution.

Don't be denial or fear. The only sensible answer to the call "black lives matter" is "of course they do. Now, how can I help?"