In Praise of Education: Black Lives Matter and Sometimes Your Opinion Doesn’t

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I’ve been stuck for a  couple of weeks on how to address the things that have been going on back home. I’m from a small town outside of Dallas and, as I’m sure you can imagine, my Facebook feed has been lit up with commentary on the police shooting there. The faction that began posting on Facebook like it was their job once the police were shot were of course silent up until that point, whereas an onslaught of news about black men being shot in cold blood had been coming in for days from my friends in other places around the world.

I feel like it’s disrespectful not to address events like this, when you have an online presence. I’m operating under no illusions that I can somehow acknowledge every major issue in world news, but when something hits close to home, either back in the US or here in Korea, I do feel like continuing to post without comment is inappropriate.

I’ve been stuck for a  couple of weeks on how to address the things that have been going on back home. I’m from a small town outside of Dallas and, as I’m sure you can imagine, my Facebook feed has been lit up with commentary on the police shooting there. The faction that began posting on Facebook like it was their job once the police were shot were of course silent up until that point, whereas an onslaught of news about black men being shot in cold blood had been coming in for days from my friends in other places around the world.

I feel like it’s disrespectful not to address events like this, when you have an online presence. I’m operating under no illusions that I can somehow acknowledge every major issue in world news, but when something hits close to home, either back in the US or here in Korea, I do feel like continuing to post without comment is inappropriate.

But there are a couple of problems with this. The first is that the news just continues to roll in. Now we have this situation with Charles Kinsey in Miami, and I’m even more at a loss for words. The only way to properly address this stuff would be to dedicate an entire blog to it.

On the other hand, I find myself at a place I haven’t been in for a long time, which is that I am no longer interested in “reasoning” with people who are not on board with a full effort to dismantle and reevaluate the presence of the police force in the US. I am no longer willing to make calm, logical arguments about gun control, systemic racism and white supremacy. I don’t want to play nice. I don’t care who agrees. I don’t feel inclined to “be respectful of other people’s opinions”. I find it ludicrous, at this point, to try to have a conversation with people who are posting about how blue lives matter.

So I question how useful any contribution I could make to the greater discourse could be. I am, at this point, only cut out to preach to the choir. What I have decided to stop doing (and what I hope other white people will also stop doing) is not calling racism by its rightful name, no matter how offensive that is to white sensibilities. I don’t care if you’re my grandmother, an old high school friend or a neighbor from back home. I don’t feel inclined to avoid the discomfort of calling racist comments, thinking and behavior racist. That word is like a hand grenade in white society, and at this point, I’m determined to just go ahead and launch it.

I encountered a comment, about a week ago, that really set me off. My response to it was not nice, nor was it intended to be, and it caused a lot of inter-family drama. My mother was told she needs to “get control” of her daughter. I was drowning in white tears for several days. I was told shame on me, for “making things personal”. I was told my behavior was ‘beneath me’. But when I saw a white woman telling a mother of two black sons that she was “not here to be educated,” I lost the plot a little bit. Education is not the enemy, and if you see it as such, maybe just shut your mouth. I’m tired of pretending everyone has the same right to an opinion, when white Americans are raised to believe that no opinion can be wrong, so long as it is yours. Hell, you don’t even need to have an education on the subject, and god forbid it’s personal for you — firsthand experience only ever counts against you.

Other voices are important right now, because the black community is tired. They are battered and bruised, and they need white people to step up to the plate and start claiming responsibility for cleaning up the mess their own kind have made. I just don’t know how to go about doing that. In the meantime, for those who are even halfway there, I think seeking out as many black voices as possible, listening to them and holding a microphone in front of them, is a good solution. I’ve ordered two books, Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson and Assata: An Autobiography, to begin with, in order to give myself a more historical framework to operate within. For many white people, this shit is current events, a lot of hoopla being stirred up by overly sensitive people cherry-picking news stories. For the black community, it is a story as old as American history, and you can’t comprehend the full scope of the thing without tracing it back through time. It didn’t start with Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner. And it sure as hell hasn’t ended there.

Once, when I was visiting a friend in Vienna, a Serbian acquaintance said to me, “You know what I love about you Americans? You have an opinion about everything, whether you know about it or not.” I laughed bitterly and acknowledged that she was right, but she said she meant it as a compliment — her country’s recent history, she said, encouraged keeping your head down and your mouth shut. Now we are 10 years further down the line, and I fear that part of our culture may be our downfall. For the love of god, embrace education. Read as much as you can. When you don’t know what to say, as I currently don’t, then listen instead. The internet exists, and the world is your oyster. Download a podcast, find a Youtube video, read a blog. You don’t need to be a member of the “liberal elite” with a degree from Yale to be curious about and invested in the experiences of your fellow Americans. You also don’t need to be the loudest voice on every subject, whether you understand it or not.

I guess that’s what I have to say for now. The sheer horror of it all keeps me from going any further.

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