Sometimes I think that I’m increasingly experiencing the world through social media. It’s not necessarily a good thing, as I can cater what I hear and who I hear it from. In my Facebook world, Trump supporters don’t exist and most people do improv or stand-up. I use it for mundane things: to post jokes and articles, to promote shows, to talk about sports.
After the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, though, my news feed was full of news and outrage, broken hearts, people questioning themselves in the wake of more murders, people saying we have to do better.
I, on the other hand, didn’t say anything. I shared a few posts from other people but I didn’t offer any support. I didn’t know how. How do I switch to Black Lives Matter when I mainly post about soccer jerseys, the New York Mets, and the latest offerings from Clickhole and The Onion? Is social media even the right place to offer support to people, especially when I know that I’m going to go right back to posting my same old trivial stuff only a few days later? I feel like for every Alton Sterling and Philando Castile post I saw last week, I’ve seen at least one Pokemon Go post this week.
Is my voice necessary? Would I be posting because that’s what I really feel, or would I be doing it just to prove that I get it, that I’m one of the good ones? And then I step back and see myself thinking like this and think, why am I putting myself at the center of this? Am I that solipsistic?
Social media is so easy that it can feel empty. I can just write some quick note of support for Black Lives Matter, feel like I’ve said my bit, wait a day, then go back to posting Joe Biden Onion articles. I feel like I shouldn’t say a word without some concrete action. I should march or protest. No. You know what I could do? I could go out and, like, buy a Black Lives Matter t-shirt and, like, wear it around. And maybe I could get accosted by a white guy on the subway who screams at me that “All lives matter!” and then I could post that story here and then share it and prove that I get it.
White savior complex aside, is that really my answer? Buy a t-shirt? Black Lives Matter isn’t a Busted Tee or a Noah Syndegaard jersey.
Now, right about here is the part where I should talk about my white privilege. The only problem is that I know as much about white privilege as a goldfish knows about water. So, I won’t talk to anyone else about theirs, not when I’m still white, not when I still have the power to other someone, to give him or her their daily dose of white people bullshit no matter how good I think I am or my intentions are.
When I start thinking in circles like this, I try to break it down to the simplest terms. There’s one thing that I know for sure about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and Michael Brown and Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. This thought first occurred to me when Trayvon Martin was shot. It’s that this wouldn’t have happened to me or my people.
Now, when I say “my people” I don’t mean white people, though the majority of the people I’m referring to are white. I simply mean the people that I grew up with, the people from my hometown, the people who went to my high school, my college, who live in my neighborhood. Transport any of these stories to my circumstances and I just don’t think it would happen.
A seventeen-year-old kid from Brighton High School, Trevor Martin, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, was walking home one day when a guy in a community watch group followed him down the street. This man had a gun and had been told by police not to pursue this student. Eventually there was a confrontation and the man shot Trevor. Even though he shot an unarmed teenager, the man didn’t go to jail. In fact, now he signs autographs at gun shows. People speculated that Trevor wouldn’t have been shot if he hadn’t been wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
That wouldn’t have happened.
A few months ago, a kid from my high school, McQuaid Jesuit in Rochester, went across the street to a 7-11 after class. He shoplifted some cigarettes. A cop pursued and ended up firing on him twelve times. People were sad and shocked but they had to admit that the student should have respected the law. The cop who shot him didn’t face any charges.
Nope. Wouldn’t have happened.
A twelve-year-old was playing at Cobbs Hill in Rochester. He had a plastic toy gun. A police officer called to the scene fired on the twelve-year-old. He died the next day.
A woman from the church I used to go to was pulled over for a broken tail light. She argued with the officer who pulled her over and the confrontation reached such a height that she was taken out of her car, assaulted, and put in jail. Two days later she was found dead of an apparent suicide in her cell.
The guy at 12 Corners Convenience, the place where I used to ride my bike to get candy every summer, was selling loose cigarettes. The police confronted him, placed him in a chokehold, and he died.
Wouldn’t have happened, wouldn’t have happened, wouldn’t have happened.
I’ve never heard stories like these, not from my friends, not from my family, not from my town. And if I did, no one would ask for more facts before becoming upset.
So, I just want to say that Black Lives Matter. You weren’t waiting to hear it from me but I’m saying it anyway.
I’m saying it because it bothers me when I hear some asshole call it inherently racist and another asshole call it the new KKK. It just seems unjust when some unarmed people are told to respect the law and others are allowed to point guns at cops. It just seems like there are two sets of rules.
Perhaps you’ll say that all lives matter, though you shouldn’t, as that has been debunked many times over. Perhaps you’ll ask why I’m not writing about the police officers in Dallas. Well, I mourn for them. I feel for their families. It should be noted, however, that their killer was neutralized by a SWAT team with a robot and two presidents spoke at their memorial service. That’s a pretty clear message that their lives mattered.
I still don’t know what to do or what my place is or how to do anything real, but for anyone who thinks that black lives matter, if you’re wondering who’s with you, I’m with you.
I’m a little disappointed in myself because I know I’m going to go back to my regular behavior. I’m going to post about sports and improv and whatever happens to be thrown around on social media on any particular day. It bothers me that I’ll be exercising the ultimate white privilege: if I don’t want to think about race, I don’t have to.
(Although maybe there’s a happy medium between Clickhole and Black Lives Matter.)