Thursday, December 4, 2014

Race in America: A Voice From the Bottom of the Totem Pole

In a society fueled by the latest hashtag, food trend, naked celebrity, grossly overpriced kids' toy, viral disease about to take out mankind, and cable tv series shocker it is no surprise that the swirling larger issues and more complex inner workings of our country are often ignored or painted over by a foie gras hotdog or a greasy overgrown ass. We are distracted, depressed, and disconnected.

Until something big happens.  Something that we have to pay attention to. We can't sweep it under a One Direction beach towel or a vibrantly printed hipster legging.  Even if we live under a rock to avoid the always inspiring network news and haven't yet drank the koolaid of social media personal expression and fake interaction.  Even if we devote our lives to a higher purpose than the pitiful trappings of the socioeconomic hunger games in this land of the free and home of the brave.  Even if we have washed our hands of all this shit a long time ago.  Everyone notices when it really hits the fan.  From the gun slinging redneck to the pot smoking yoga teacher. From the hip and relevant Buzzfeed blogger to the crotchety old retiree on the golf course. From the under represented black teenager to the over protected policeman.  Sometimes we are given these unifying moments when current events force us to look inside for our own personal truths and consequences.  The results can be sad, hilarious, destructive, entertaining, tragic, but altogether are the essence of America. Whether we like it or not.

This big something of late are the two instances of white policemen causing the deaths of two black men. Each case is very different from the other and has it's own intricacies, evidence, witnesses, circumstances, and they are certainly only connected by the race of each party. One in the south, one in the north.  One young man, one older man.  One child, one father. One "resisting", one standing still on a sidewalk.  One shot, one strangled.

Both gone.

We all know the aftermath.  Following the grand juries in both cases decisions to not bring charges against the officers in question there has been a movement in America to question authority and take the power back.  Some faces of this movement are intellectual and peaceful.  Seeking change through channels of policy and procedure.  Some faces are riotous and rogue, showing force and fury by setting fires and tipping police cars.  There are warriors writing and fighting with thought and pen. There are silent showings of support, holding "hand up, don't shoot" figures in the public eye. The checks and balances to shield citizens against excessive use of force is a joke and we have two blaring examples of a system gone awry and the less protected class/race taking the brunt of it.

On the other side of the coin there are those who are defending the legal system and the policemen. Taking up the cause of those who dedicate their lives and careers to protecting and serving the people of the country.  Ensuring law and order over chaos and violence. They take an oath, badge, and gun into the darkest and meanest places so that we don't have to.  They are there when we call them immediately.  They sacrifice a lot in their lives so that we can live in a safer world and have a sense of peace when we wave our children good bye in the morning.  They are heroes.  They are under appreciated and over worked.  So why condemn a whole group of good guys when there are one or two bad apples?

If you take to facebook, instagram, twitter, etc you will see that everyone has their opinion and there is little room for intelligent discussion.  Friendships are strained, true colors fly freely, and everyone is more concerned with being right than doing right. Herein lies the crux of the struggle of my generation: we are lost in narcissism and it is making us stupid.  We want our pictures, statuses, (*blogs* ooops), tweets, posts to be liked and shared and praised and promoted.  We need so much personal validation that it is taking valuable energy away from the bigger picture.  America needs us right now to stop taking fucking selfies and get with the program.

I called this post "From the bottom of the totem pole" because in the grand scheme of things Indigenous American women such as myself may be the most underrepresented and persecuted group in this country just by the sheer weight of attempted genocide, oppression, sexism, racism...blah, blah, blah.  Even Bill O'Reilly can probably admit that we have had it rougher than other segments of the population and the violence and mistreatment continues today.  When I see these stories I shudder to think of how many Indigenous women have been killed, raped, abused, and hurt at the hands of authority figures that have gotten away with it.  How many of my sister have woken up in agony and pain. Or not woken up at all.

In my reservation community we are taught from a young age to not trust the police. I think this is unfortunate but it is true for many minority communities.  As a child I did not see these men as helpful heroes who would keep me safe.  I was afraid of them and suspicious of their whole outfit. We had a DARE officer who was also native come into the school to teach us about drug abuse prevention and he was the first one who made me think of police as human.  Other than that I always drove two miles per hour under the speed limit if they were anywhere near me, never made eye contact in public, and always had an escape plan should I find myself in a place where illegal things may or may not have been occurring (they were).  There is nothing worse than a snitch or a narc and from the time I was 8 years old and didn't tell them about an incident on the school bus that I witnessed I knew it was better to take the punishment than rat on anyone.  There is absolutely a divide and an "us against them" mentality that both minorities and police have contributed to.

So what do we do?  As I have matured, made friends that are in law enforcement, and seen some incredible acts of humanity and good will done by those in uniform I think back to my rebellious tendencies of my formative years with some amusement but a healthy dose of curiosity.  Who exactly is pitting these two groups against each other?  The government?  God? Society?  Why is it that white privilege extends all the more powerfully to people who are supposed to leave their color at the door when they put on those blues? Why can't we bring police to justice when they are the ones who have spent their lives as a tool of that very concept?  Is it just a concept?  Why is it people are so quick to judge the rioters and looters but are not really fucking angry that police can commit murder and get away with it?

The system is failing us.  What kind of future are we creating by forging along forcing broken ideals into evolving problems? It will get worse until someone has the courage to make it better.  We can absolutely question authority without being cast as extremists or trouble makers and it is imperative that we do. We live in a country that goes around the world touting freedoms and democracy but on our own soil there is such massive corruption and injustice it is an iceberg of hypocrisy.

I challenge you, smart phone generation, to take a stand in peace and unity for our country.  Our children, our way of life.  For Eric Garner who won't see any more memories with his six children and widow.  For Michael Brown who died at 18, an age most of us breezed through unaware of how lucky we were to be alive.  For the countless invisible faces and spirits of my people who have died in murderous acts by those in power that saw no national attention or riots.

It is ok to be angry.  It is our responsibility to be angry. We can't pretend that racism doesn't exist just because our favorite show is Modern Family or Barack Obama is president.  Let's be better.

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