This past week has been exhausting: trying to explain to too many white people what systematic racism is, what white privilege is, why the history of white supremacy and legalized racism in the United States is so critical to understanding the current situation and climate of unrest. Doing the unsavory work of researching claims and “stats” that those who aren’t on board with the protests use to justify their views.
I have been floating at around zero percent productivity with work and personal projects. I missed a deadline for something that was important to me. I haven’t been sleeping well. My cortisone levels have been through the roof. My emotional state throughout the week can best be described as “unhinged.”
Downtown L.A. feels like a war zone. Helicopters humming overhead at all times. Persistent sirens—more than usual. The National Guard with their military vehicles and automatic machine guns built for fighting actual wars. Lines of troops in full combat gear spread out for blocks around our neighborhood.
This is day six. When I go for coffee, I pass through crowds of soldiers equipped to kill enemy combatants. They are presumably here to keep the peace. But they do not make me feel safe. They do not make any of the business owners I have spoken to feel safe. Most police wear bulletproof helmets and full body armor but no face masks. Meanwhile, I’m hearing that doctors and nurses here still don’t have enough PPE.
Explosions and booms and bangs ring throughout the night. What sounds like gunfire shatters an otherwise rare moment of quiet. I hear what I imagine are lone vehicles screeching aimlessly through the neighborhood crashing into unknown objects long after the protesters have gone home. Hours and hours after the peaceful protests are over, these sounds continue. My fear is that someone is waging psychological warfare on us. Trying to turn the community against the political unrest. Trying to get business owners to hate the protesters. I can’t prove this, but the paranoia lives inside me.
I have no fear of the protestors and no fear of looters or riots. I am afraid of the police and the kids in battle fatigues who are patrolling downtown LA carrying government-issued automatic rifles.
Many people are upset because they think the protestors don’t have anything to be upset about. People born in other countries who don’t know the history. People born here who have learned different or selective histories. White people who grew up poor and “worked their way out of it.” People who don’t understand what Black Lives Matter means but won’t bother to find out. I try to fill people in and catch people up. I listen to their views and try to find the point where some piece of it just isn’t connecting. I try to stay productive. And then I read the comments online. Dear god help us all.
I am white. It’s a little more complicated than that but I think people generally identify me as white. I have been on the receiving end of approximately zero racism in my life. I have benefited from white privilege innumerable times. It’s impossible for me to imagine how my experience might be different if I weren’t white. How might my life have gone differently? How would I feel right now? How would I handle white people constantly peppering me with the “get-over-its” and the “yeah-but-what-abouts?”
This is not a call for sympathy. I am fine. My emotional state will improve. I have the support and resources to take care of myself. This is a call for empathy for Black America, for our brothers and sisters who have to keep justifying their own existence and the value of their lives to complete strangers. We need more self-reflection. We need more awareness of our own privilege.
The worst part about all this for me is arguing with people who don’t seem to want to move forward. Asking them, why is it so hard? Why does equality scare you so much? Why is the idea of improving other lives a negative experience for you? But being a part of the protests has also been inspiring and hopeful.
I’m sending infinite love to all of you, especially the haters. To all the black folks, I say stay strong, because most of us are with you. To all the allies fighting the fight and particularly those who are fighting much harder battles than I am, I commend you. Keep it up.
Here’s to change.