At Least You’re Not Still On Fire

Ask yourself.
Ask yourself.

Yesterday afternoon as I commuted home on the subway a young woman sat down across from me with a child of two or three years old.  He was laughing and waving at everyone in the car, in that way only a child can: with utter trust the world is good place full of people who do no harm.  As I watched my fellow human beings react to his exuberant innocence,  sharing his joy, I came over with a sense of powerful sadness.  You see, in ten or twelve years the people on the car will not see a beautiful child.  Indeed, he will no longer be a child, he will be “Black”.

He will live with suspicion and fear.  When he gets on a subway car, people will grasp their possessions closer.  They will draw their shoulders closer and move away.  Police officers, as a best case, will watch him as those he will suddenly commit a crime on a moment’s notice.  (In a worse case they will slam him against the wall and search him, in the WORST case they will kill him.)  He will not live in the same world where I walk without fear of repression, he will always be “Black” first and human second.  (Again, if he’s lucky, if he happens a She or Gay, or Muslim or mentally ill, human will follow those monikers.)

I hear my fellow Caucasians talk about “Angry Black Men”, as though this were the source rather than the result of the racial tension in America.  “Why are Blacks so angry?  Don’t they know how much better is now?  When I was a kid…” As though the idea that a slight reduction in inequality is reason to celebrate.  (This is liking tell a victim of third degree burns “Hey!  It could be worse!  At least you’re not still on fire!”)  The simple act of not being AS racist as we were 40 years ago doesn’t mean we aren’t still racist.

If I walked the streets and everyone saw me as “White Man” and not as a human, I would be angry too.  Indeed, I WAS angry being treated this way.  Make no mistake, a year of being discriminated against in no way equates to a life time. Unless you are Black in America, you will never know what it means to BE Black in America.  I don’t care if you DO listen to Hip Hop and have a  Black Friend.

This world, where the police routinely single out African-Americans for searches and interrogations merely because they are Black In Public. (And sometimes kill them.)  This world where resumes with “Black Sounding Names”  go aside in favor of “White Sounding Names”.  This world, where that targets African-Americans with the predatory lending commercials to take more of their smaller slice of the American Pie.  This world, where African-Americans represent an incredibly disproportionate number of prisoners compared to their population. This world, where you always were and will be “African-American” rather “American”.  This world, which I live in but never even experience and only barely acknowledge, is what is left to the beautiful child on the subway.

Anger isn’t strong enough a word to contain the feelings experienced.  (But, hey, at least we’re not lynching you!  Right? At least you’re not still on fire.)

Except, there are still flames.  They flare in places like Ferguson Missouri reminding every African-American their safety predicates on being quiet and unseen.  The flames that burn when a Black parent tells their child they WILL be harassed by the police for the just being Black. When white people say “It’s better than it was”, what we mean is “Quiet nigger, it could be a LOT worse.”

What is worse, is I don’t know how to make a better world.  I lack a magic wand to wave, transforming 400 years of history into a just and equal world.  People I know and love will read these words unable to imagine their place in the world we leave to the beautiful child. They will say I am suffering from “White Guilt” or I am just being a “Liberal”. If I can’t change the minds of those close to me, what good are these words?

I want to leave that little boy on the train a better world, one where he will only be seen as a person. My shame and sorrow at the world he will actually inherit changes nothing.  The flames are going to burn long and slow for generation. Even IF I waved a wand all the flames vanished, the smoke would still burn our eyes.