Notes On The George Floyd Riots; The Irreconcilable Divisions In The Hearts And Minds Of White People That Prevent Real Change

I’ve lived in Chicago since ’08 (you know, the year Obama got elected, putting that final rusty nail into Racism’s coffin), and in this very neatly segregated city you can’t avoid confronting the strained relationship between Whites and Blacks in some way or another (unless you live in Lincoln Park, or maybe Boystown); racial segregation is baked into not only the geography of this city but its spirit, and to anyone who cares enough to pay attention, it sure seems that regardless of the lip service guilty-feeling Whites pay to it, the irreconcilable division between White and Black is likely to persist for another 200+ postbellum years…

As I write this, it’s the day after rioters and looters, either as part of or ancillary to the George Floyd protests (it seems to be the latter), decimated a large swath of downtown Chicago, including the neighborhood I live in, and emptied the shelves of Walgreens, Ulta, Old Navy, Jewel-Osco, and every other retail outfit that lent itself to entry by brick-through-glass; I don’t know what the fair-skinned among us are going to do, there’s nary a summer-weight romper or bottle of 50 SPF sunscreen left in sight…

I admit, with some sense of guilt, I wasn’t there; I’ve been out of town at my in-laws in the suburbs (Example of White Privilege #1 (“EWP”) (this piece will be a veritable Where’s Waldo of white privilege, no doubt, except there’s like 20 Waldos)); I have mixed feelings about this; on the one hand, thank God, because I have a three-year-old little girl and the potential threat to her, even if remote, would have made for a sleepless night; on the other, I should have been there; it’s my home, my community, and I had to rely on texts from neighbors and the neighborhood watch group on Facebook (EWP #2) for live updates on what acoustical police cannons actually sound like, and which stores were in process of being robbed; I can’t help but feel like I should’ve been there to, you know, do absolutely nothing about any of it; also, the morning after…man I’d like to see what a real-life looted CVS looks like in the light of day, maybe even sneak off with a couple of peanut butter Cliff bars…

But even though I wasn’t there, the shit went down in my neighborhood, and I can’t very well not reckon with how I feel and what I think about the catalyst that triggered looting and rioting so close to home, i.e. the millionth black guy to be suffocated or otherwise slaughtered by the cops without anything approaching an adequate reason, so here I am, drinking freshly ground coffee in the comfort of my in-law’s suburban home stocked with more Pamplemousse La Croix than you can shake a nitrite-free Trader Joe’s beef stick at (EWP #3), good and ready to hash out my thoughts and feelings (the possibility that there may have been ‘bad actors’ involved in the looting has no effect on my analysis)…

I’m of two minds (or three, or eleven) about this whole thing and race relations generally (talk about divisions; are the external ones just manifestations of the internal?); I think about the plight of Blacks a lot, not because I’m particularly a Responsibly Compassionate White Man Concerned With Greater Social Justice (or SJW, if you prefer the pejorative), but because I live among them (am I even allowed to say ‘them’?), and see them every day, in my neighborhood, on the train, in the grocery store, in front of the grocery store, through the windows of my Lexus that still has at least a year left on the original warranty and an additional two on the extended one (EWP #4); you don’t have to be a genius, or a falsely self-effacing guilty White liberal, to see that a great many Blacks do not live in the same world that we do; and why? certainly it’s not fair, certainly it has nothing to do with any innate inferiority like the eugenics/white supremacy crowd would have you believe, and certainly the tired old Republican refrain of it being due to a simple failure to pull up by the bootstraps hard enough is a gross oversimplification; I don’t know, I could only hazard a guess at the answer, which I won’t do here (especially if it were to involve opining that they play even a small role in their own misfortune, which I certainly won’t do), but one thing’s for damn sure: regardless of why, Blacks have nowhere near the access, security, or opportunity that Whites do, and if I was black (being the uber-angry and resentful type that I am), I’d want to burn the whole fucking city to the ground, too…    

So, on the one hand, march, protest, throw shit, and, fuck, loot away (I know, I know, it wasn’t you, necessarily); I would if I was you; if I was a black man there’s no doubt I’d be pulled through daily life by the current of my own rage; I’d regard Whites with the same contempt and simmering violent impulses as the enemy in wartime; I would fucking hate you, Whites, and the bulk of my conscious thinking would be about the injustice of what you have and I don’t, both in terms of material prosperity and the privilege to quietly enjoy your life; and if I had the opportunity to invade your neighborhoods and stores and sense of security, if I could make you feel for one goddamn night the pain and spiritual splintering that comes from living in a margin that you can’t even see, from having an ancestral heritage that still echoes with the humiliation of enslavement—a burden you could never fathom, one that penetrates so deeply it’s imprint is likely never to fully dissipate—well, I would take it, along with all your fucking organic foods and two-ply toilet paper; and God help you if your Lexus is parked on the street…  

BUT…even to the extent a cracker-ass cracker like me is capable of really empathizing with Blacks’ undeniable plight…you better keep that shit out of my neighborhood, motherfucker

This is the essence of the division in the private interior life of Whites, both internal and external, and slapping an all-caps RACIST label on it does little to vitiate it; for instance, in the midst of contemplating and empathizing with justifiable Black rage, I’m simultaneously contemplating getting a gun, because, let me tell you, if this shit happens again when I’m home, and one of you fucks—I don’t give a shit what color you are—tries to break in my windows, well, you get the picture (let’s put aside for the moment that in reality I’d probably hide in the closet)…

In addition to this we-really-do-support-you-unless-you-do-it-here-in-which-case-we’ll-call-the-police division in the Grinch-sized hearts of Whites, there’s another vital gap, one that won’t ever be bridged: even if Whites are rooting for you (and many of them aren’t), they’ll never sacrifice even a small part of their privilege for Black benefit, especially not the Whites whose tweets and tongue-clucking posts on Facebook would lead you to believe otherwise; visible displays of ‘solidarity’ by liberal Whites are for the benefit of other liberal Whites, period, and white people who offer aw-shucks acknowledgments of their privilege are the same ones scrambling to keep as much of it as possible (this is an immutable law of the irony of self-division, a corollary to the principle of me-thinks-thou-dost-protest-too-much); even when the ones who mean well bemoan the disparate treatment wrought on Blacks, what they’re really bemoaning is the icky feeling that comes from coexisting with a group that’s treated worse than you are, and having to actually look at it (yuck!); some of these crackers may even think they mean what they say, but even the ones who are authentically outraged by something like the murder of George Floyd and the larger inequities it reveals (and aren’t just cynically ‘virtue signaling’) are outraged for themselves, and the unwelcomed spotlight a black man’s murder shines on their unearned hegemony; that or the fact that it’s super inconvenient to wait for group of protestors to pass by when you’re already late for yoga; God, it takes foreeeeever [vocal fry]…

Listen, I have no idea what the solution to this is; frankly, there probably isn’t one; but my instinct is that it starts with an acknowledgement, a REAL acknowledgement, by Whites, to Blacks, not only that that they’ve never had a fair shake in this country and that their pain is real, and valid, but that Whites have been intentionally working to keep them subjugated this whole goddamn time (some liberal whiteys may throw up their hands and claim that they’ve already done exactly that, but it isn’t enough because it isn’t real; you may not have the wherewithal to apprehend the divisions in yourself, but if Blacks know anything, it’s when a White is full of shit, and not to be trusted)…

Of course, such an admission won’t happen until Whites admit to themselves the private divisions in their hearts and minds; and that, my friends, is not likely to happen, because it would require us to do the very thing that we, in this era of the illusion of ideological purity, are incapable of doing: sit down and take a thorough and brutally honest inventory of ourselves (EWP #5), in particular the evil that lurks there on the selfish sides of the divisions I’ve talked about; there’s a fabulous Solzhenitsyn quote about this, how the dividing line between good and evil cuts through the human heart, and how who among us would sacrifice a piece of our own heart?…

Which brings me to my own private divisions, and to Blacks I say this: I hear you, I think your pain is inconceivable, and valid; I think you’re entitled to every ounce of it; I know that the fear you feel walking around your city is real, that you’re regarded as a suspect wherever you go; and I know this because I often regard you as a suspect, and frankly I don’t feel guilty about it when I do; but I see that it isn’t fair, that that dynamic came before you, that you were born into it, and it isn’t your fault; if I had to bear that burden, I’d be more hurt and angry than I could even fathom; you deserve better, you deserve greater opportunity, equality, the privilege to live without constant fear of the police; you deserve a government and society that invests in you; you deserve all of these things at least as much as I do; and I’m rooting for you, I really am; I truly hope you get what you want…

Unless, of course, what you want affects me or my interests negatively, or the peace and safety of my neighborhood is disturbed as a result; in that case, I’ll reject your efforts, do what I can to sabotage them, and to keep you exactly where you are…

I hope that admission confirms what you already know about white people, and brings you some small sense of vindication .♦

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