Monday, July 18, 2016

The Bear Talk

I've been pretty quiet on the subject of police brutality toward black men, and there are good reasons for that.  First of all, as a middle class, white, Orange County housewife, I don't pretend that I know the struggle of the black man in America, and I haven't felt that I had anything to add to the conversation that wasn't already being said, more eloquently, by people with better credentials. 

 Second, I tend to avoid talking about race, because I...lack sensitivity.  That's not to say that I lack compassion, or kindness.  I am not a racist, but I have an unfortunate tendency to say things that sound awful, in retrospect.  Like the time that I told one of my black friends that I would love to go to the Deep South and tour some of those "beautful old plantation houses".  If you know me well, you know that I only meant that I love and admire that style of architecture, but that statement could easily be interpreted as a longing for the beauty of the slavery days of yore, a-la Paula Deen.  And the time one of my black friends was worried about getting fired and I tried to make a joke about how they can't fire her because she's black and then everyone will think her manager is racist.  That was a bad, bad joke.  Obviously I didn't mean that; I was just trying to make her feel better with my ill-conceived attempt at humor.  But white people can't make jokes like that.  I like to think that living in a racially diverse place for a few years now has cured me of my propensity to say stupid things, but in reality, who knows?  Maybe my black friends all had a meeting and collectively agreed to just ignore me when I talk, and so I just think I'm acting sanely, but in reality I'm still awful.  

See, that right there is something I probably shouldn't have said.  My black friends all had a meeting?  Like they all know each other?  Sigh.  I should be euthanized.

So anyway, I've kept my mouth shut for fear of making everyone hate me.  

But the other day, I heard something interesting.  It was an interview with black parents, discussing how they teach their children - particularly their sons - how to deal safely with the police.  And what really struck me was that, one one level, I could relate to it.  Because I've heard that same talk, just not about the police.

It was about bears.

Like most white people raised in rural areas, I've spent a significant amount of time outdoors.  And I can tell you that basically everyone who has spent a lot of time in the woods has heard the "bear talk" at some point.  Probably from your parents, but maybe from a camp counselor or park ranger.  Regardless, you've heard it.  It goes something like this:

"Bears aren't evil.  They aren't out to get you, necessarily.  In fact, they're an important part of the ecosystem, and we need to respect that.  But you have to be careful if you do come across one, and you have to know how to behave, because sometimes one of them will get a hair up its ass, and it'll attack you.  Especially if it feels like you're threatening it, or its young."

Insert "police" for bear and it's essentially the same exact speech.  And that's pretty fucked up, that for a whole segment of our population, dealing with the police feels like dealing with a large, unpredictable, wild animal.

Now extend that thinking.

The bears have military grade weapons, which they are trained to use with deadly accuracy.  Also, the Bears can call on other bears to come assist them in fucking you up.  And you might be in a place where you wouldn't expect to encounter bears, like a mall, or driving home from work, or walking down the street, but someone might think you're a poacher and will summon the bears to come get you.  And if a bear attacks you, no one will believe you unless you get it on camera, and even then, lots of people will be like, "well, he was probably a poacher, so whatevs."

Now imagine that that is the speech you got about bears.  What would that do to you psychologically, to hear that, to feel that way all the time?  What would that kind of stress do to you?

Again, I don't claim to know what it's like to be black in America.  But I do know that if I had been told that about bears when I heard the bear speech for the first time, I'd be a nervous wreck, and I'd probably not be the biggest fan of bears.

I want to just say here that I don't hate cops, and I don't think they are wild animals bent on murder.  I think the vast majority of cops are normal, hard working people who do a lot of good.  I don't think cops are like, waking up every day super excited to go kill some black people.  And obviously, I don't think cops should be murdered or assaulted, especially when they aren't even the cops who are involved in police brutality incidents.  

But the fact of the matter is, police have a lot of power in our society.  A LOT.  And so a bad, racist cop can do a lot of damage, up to and including murder, and he can get away with it.  Black people from all lines of work and economic classes are telling us the same thing; that they are being profiled and harassed.  That their sons and brothers are dying because of trigger happy cops who see them as threats, simply because of how they look.  And we can't turn a blind eye to it any longer; not when we have actual proof that it's a real and present problem.  

Look.  Because of who I am and how I look, I basically have to run naked down the freeway with a flame thrower to get bothered by the cops, and even then, they'd probably just call someone to come give me a ride home, assuming I'd had one too many mimosas at brunch.  But that doesn't mean I'm willing to dismiss the problems of black people, just because they're not problems I'm likely to have.  I stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, even if they would maybe rather not have me.

I feel like I should do a hashtag here, but I don't tweet, so whatever.

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