Originally posted on Facebook June 1, 2020
alright, so, protesting and policing and property. let’s talk about how we talk about it.
cuz it’s very easy to say “i’m not the one saying they’re doing it wrong, i’m just concerned about how this narrative will look to *other people*!” but — consider for a moment that you might be other people. if you are a nonblack citizen of the united states, you are other people; you are someone who protests are trying to persuade. you are responsible, by virtue of your citizenship, by virtue of your non-blackness, for how you choose to respond to what’s happening. you can try to dodge that responsibility under the mantle of other people’s opinions, but perhaps that is an excuse to mask your own discomfort.
and maybe you think, hey, i’m just posting about it on facebook, i’m not on national television, what’s the harm? — but social media has become our public square, particularly in our pandemic conditions. and that’s not a great thing. but it does mean that the conversations you have here are not private. you are participating in the narrative that is developing around these protests. if you are talking primarily about looting and property damage, you are not just distracting from the demand for structural justice; you are creating space and encouraging others to do the same, to place concern for property over murder and brutality enacted by the state. this privileging of property over lives forms the very beating heart of white supremacy, and every time we reproduce its logic we are standing in the way of justice. when we reproduce its logic in the public square we are doing so most harmfully, because we are empowering the state to continue ending lives in the name of protecting property.
which is not to say that property damage is a positive good. i am, frankly, profoundly uninterested in that question right now, and i would encourage you to be as well. target will be fine. small businesses and nonprofits can be harmed by property damage; they also have sources of redress, mainly through insurance, whereas the point of protesting in the streets is that all avenues of redress have been foreclosed. and if you or someone near you has been harmed by property damage, i encourage you to feel whatever feelings you have about the matter, including anger, but i would encourage you to consider whether or not those feelings are appropriate to air in public places right now, or whether they might be regarded as a private injury. and consider, too, that perhaps the real responsibility lies not with the individual who threw the rock or lit the match but the system which perpetuates such brutal injustice and which so profoundly lacks accountability that people are forced to take the streets to insist that their lives matter too, the system which greets them on those same streets with tear gas and tanks for what crime but asserting their right to exist in peace — consider that perhaps such an inhumane system might in fact hurt us all, despite its promises to the contrary.
because one of the most insidious tools of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism is the way its attitude of consumerist individualism infects every sphere of our society, the way it strips us of private meaning and connection and then suggests that the solution is not to be found in public solidarity but in public atomization, in turning mechanisms of public support not to collective good but to the satisfaction of our private, consumer wants, all the longings created by the hollowing-out of our relationships and private selves. and the apogee (or the nadir) of this public/private confusion is social media, home of the branded-but-authentic self, in which we commodify our inner lives for likes and mistake this for either discourse or interiority or both, when what it actually offers us is a stunted and confused version of neither. but there is an antidote. the antidote is relationship. the cure, as childlike as it may sound, is friendship. genuine, vulnerable, honest friendship, where we can hold each other accountable, where we can create space to grieve something that is real and deserving of feeling but which we don’t want to bring into a public dialog.
and right now we allies are tripping over ourselves to commit to anti-racist education, to marches, to fundraising, to concrete actions. and those actions are vital. but so too is relationship building. it is not an either/or but a both/and, because accountability lives in relationship. and if you do not have robust reciprocal relationships that won’t diminish the complexity of your individual response but will enable you to support a broader social vision of accountability and justice, message me. i’m around. i like you. let’s chat.
and in whatever context you are having such conversation, i encourage you too to examine a sentiment i’ve been seeing a lot of, particularly from la friends, in these days of curfew and national guard deployment: a sense of threatened safety, and the admonition to “stay safe.” because preservation of safety is a powerful cover for police violence; it is the very justification most cops use for taking black lives, and it is a justification that juries are all too ready to accept, because it is so self-evidently important — if we are not safe, then what else can we build? but safety can be its own enclosure, and it is possible to build so much outside of our police-mediated understanding of it, and for proof we need only look to the most unsafe lives in this country, which is to say, black ones, especially black trans ones, where beauty and creativity thrive — and that thriving is supported by a safety derived not from the state or the police but from relationship and community. so when you talk of “safety,” or even tell others, with the best of intentions, to “stay safe,” consider that this word is a synecdoche for police, and that true safety lives elsewhere. consider whether you are in fact unsafe, or simply uncomfortable. and regardless, consider the source of the threat: do you feel this way because black people are marching in the streets, or do you feel this way because police are spraying tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed protestors and driving tanks down quiet residential streets? are you, in fact, feelings most threatened by the curfew and the helicopters and the guardsmen, the very pretext for which is the preservation of your “safety”?
because nonblack, nonindigenous citizens are trained to trust the police, and even if you strive to interrupt this in your own parenting, children’s media is rife with positive police relationships, and finding the opposite is incredibly hard. we’ve all been brought up in this and some of us discover the lie as we get older; the trans and the queer and the brown and the disabled and the unhoused come to know, all too readily and intimately, the inherent violence of policing, and some of the rest of us encounter it by accident. i was fifteen when i was arrested and harassed and though i made it into a punchline for years that night with officer monty offered a powerful lesson in the arbitrariness and impunity that cops have at their disposal; it was a window into something that so many less privileged people experience so much more often, and so much more harshly. and the images on twitter and on some news sites, of cops tear-gassing a child, of officers beating the elderly, of police faces twisted in rage — these are windows too.
please. please. keep looking through them.
because perhaps what feels most unsafe is that their rage is not only at black marchers but at white protestors too. perhaps the thing which our american social contract has rendered as the guarantor of your safety is a flimsier garment than you imagined, if it cannot accommodate the demand that your heart and your conscience know to be the truest thing in all this confusion: that black lives matter.
this is an uncomfortable reckoning to have. perhaps the heat of the protests has ignited things you never thought to examine before and it hurts, to discover such deep violence embedded into so many places in yourself, but i hope you choose to let the fire of freedom find all the false promises of white supremacy, and i hope you let them burn.