DISCLAIMER: I am white, so as outraged as I can be, I will never have the same experiences as BIPOC. So don't just read this, read opinion pieces written by BIPOC as well, read everything you can, keep educating yourself and finding ways YOU can make a difference.
As I have watched the news over the past weeks unfold, I couldn't help but make parallels between the riots and the injustice and the frustration of REAL LIFE right now, and similar themes in many of the books, movies, and shows that capture our attention.
Recently I have finished watching a show called Humans, based on a science fiction book series of the same name. In this series there are two groups, to make it simple. There are humans and there are synths, synthetics, robots created to act as slaves to humans. As with all science fictions shows of this nature, West World, iRobot, etc. these synths start to develop consciousness. They feel, and think, and emote. They become pretty much identical to humans. They are humans. But people are scared of them because they don't understand them. So, the synths must cater everything they do to the comfort of the humans around them (sound familiar?) They are treated horribly, but if they fight back they risk the humans labelling them as violent, and destroying them all. But if they don't fight back the humans just walk all over them, take their rights, treat them like shit. The peaceful integration of humans and synths is so slowww. The government is so slow at putting anything in place that will help the situation, and regular people are slow to understand, so they focus on fear of the synths and attack them. So when the synths are attacked they have two options, fight back and be labeled a violent threat, or not fight back and still risk their lives? They can do everything they are "supposed to", and still see no progress in their right to live, so, of course, they start fighting back (also familiar I hope).
As a viewer of a TV show, the situation is obvious. We see into the lives of the synths and see that they are like real people. They do have feelings and thoughts and deserve the same things all people do. There are peaceful synths and violent synths, but just because one is violent does not mean they all are, and as a viewer we get that. We understand the frustration.
In Harry Potter we love Hermione, and when "pure bloods" harass her for having a different home life and upbringing, we are on her side. We see the injustice and we support the side of the oppressed. In The Hunger Games, we see how unfair and upsetting their whole system is. We see the need for outrage and when in the end they burn down half the city, we cheer because we recognize that the burning buildings represent the fight for justice, the oppressed rising up to fight for their rights as people. We can connect to all these stories, we understand why violence happens when peaceful protests are not met with actual change in a galaxy far far away. We understand why they let Hogwarts crumble to fight Voldemort and his death eaters. We understand why The Capitol burned to destroy a corrupt system. You know why we can connect to that in all these stories? A few reasons.
First, because they have white main characters, we see ourselves reflected there, and we relate with the oppressed community in these books and shows when they look like us, even if their lives are completely different. We can relate and connect to them because, for the most part, they share our skin tone. But also because these are stories. These stories aren't real, and they are clear cut. We see who is evil and who is good, and we can disconnect anytime without guilt if we want to.
Problem is, these stories don't come from nowhere. These aren't original themes. These are metaphors for real life injustice, real life prejudice, real life oppression. What is happening right now is not just another story.
So why is it that we seem to all agree that synths in Humans deserve rights, that "mud bloods" in Harry Potter deserve the same respect and freedoms as "pure bloods", and that the burning down of buildings in Hunger Games is warranted because nothing else seems to be making a difference. But when it comes to real life, REAL people, REAL injustice in our REAL world, we as a society seem more upset about the burning buildings than the reason they are on fire. Why can't we see the parallels between these stories we all love and cherish and what is happening in real life.
It is a lot harder to connect when, in the real life story, we see our faces reflected back at us in the oppressors, not the oppressed. So we feel uncomfortable, because nobody wants to be the bad guy. So when we see these real life stories that show white people as the bad guys, it is easier to get mad about the burning buildings than admit what is actually going on and the fact that, if you are white, the probability that at some point in your life you were part of the problem is very, very high. Another issue is that we watch these news stories from the other side of the screen, which makes it easy for us to disconnect. Personally I am watching all of this from my beautiful house, in a small mountain town that is predominantly white. It is easy to feel like when I turn my TV off, the story goes away just like the stories of Katniss and Harry don't continue when I close the book. It is easy to shut off that feeling of awkwardness, the uncomfortable realization that you are part of the problem, when you can literally just turn off your TV and it "goes away". BUT THIS IS REAL LIFE. When you close your computer, or don't watch the news, these stories don't stop. These real living people are still oppressed, still have to deal with racism and fear, but we get to keep living our much easier white lives in our safe houses in our safe neighborhoods. We don't have to teach our children how to deal with police so that they don't get killed. We don't have to change our behavior and keep our wits about us just going out for errands to avoid potential harassment or violence just for existing. So why do we seem to care more about fictional characters than we do about our own fellow humans. Why do we side with the burning buildings and a rich disconnected white (orange) man who doesn't know anything about what it is like to live in the real world? This seems to show a sense of apathy in addition to disconnection, because us white people are so privileged that the rights we have been protesting about in the streets, are things like our "right" to get a haircut during a pandemic, when BIPOC people have had all their basic human rights challenged every day for the past... forever, every normal day of their lives.
It has been a few months, MONTHS, long months but still just months, that everyone has had to rethink their actions when they go out. For a few months we have had to live with the slight discomfort of wearing masks in public or not being able to do EXACTLY what we want to all the time. And you know what happened? Everyone has been losing their fucking minds! Protesting against a virus that nobody can control, getting angry that we can't eat in restaurants. BIPOC have been dealing with having to over think everything they do for the comfort of those around them their whole lives, and us white people can't even handle doing it for a few months.
We can connect to stories decently well. We can get outraged about oppression and racism and injustice when it is laid out by characters we can relate to with an evil we can easily identify. It would appear, however, that we cannot connect to real life unless it is literally on our doorstep. We cannot connect to this real life story because in many situations we are the "bad guy" of this story, not the oppressed population. There is some barrier that we can't seem to break through to understand the connection between these fictional stories we've grown up with, and the real life injustice story happening every day.
How do we break this cycle? How do we make people see this real life story the way they see tv shows and books? Nobody is writing a book about how a bunch of white people couldn't get their hair cut for a few months so they risked the safety of those around them to protest in the streets about their right to have shorter hair, because honestly that is a terrible stupid book. If you burn down a building because your hair is scruffy, ya I am going to focus more on the burning building than your problem. But if you burn down a building because you, your friends, your family, aren't safe driving to football practice, going to the grocery store, having a beer out with your buddies, just because of the color of your skin, I am going to see that fire as a sign that we need to change, we need to listen and make a difference.
Fire gets attention, and I understand it is not peaceful, it is not positive, because peace and positivity have failed. We didn't pay attention because it was easy to ignore peaceful protests, so out of desperation the next step is fire.
What would you do if you fought peacefully for your rights for decades and nobody seemed to notice and nothing changed? What would you do if your brothers and sisters were being killed and it felt like nobody was taking any action to stop it? What if you had to teach your six year old child to show their hands and recite a script about how they are not dangerous, please don't kill me, so they would be safer from the police? The people who are supposed to protect you?
Peaceful protests? Well then...
What would you do if your story was warped and manipulated so your peaceful message wasn't getting across? What if you knelt during the anthem as a sign of respect for your fallen brothers and sisters, just like a flag at half mast, and all everyone saw was you being anti-America and you got fired from your job? What if you marched peacefully down your streets and you were met with gas and rubber bullets, or even real bullets. Remember Dr. King was killed as he peacefully protested for the rights of his people. What would you do if it felt like no matter what you or anyone else did nothing was changing?
You would burn. The fire inside you would start to rage so intensely you would need to let it out. So, that is what is happening. We can't focus on peace and light and love if that means ignoring the uncomfortable, dark situation that is racism. Prioritizing positivity and peacefulness over the truth of what is happening, over human rights and senseless death, is not helping.
I hope we get to the point where we can focus on peace, love, light etc. but right now is a time of fire. Sometimes we need to burn the whole thing down, for new life to grow.
It is a difficult situation. Peace hasn't appeared to work. There is no guarantee violence will either. So what is the solution to this situation? Is it educating ourselves, but many won't do that, especially those who need it the most. So what do you think? What is the solution? What are the next steps here?