If you are on social media and you live in a Baltimore suburb, you have been reading about the protests in our fair city.
You have also been reading the comments, because you just can’t resist. Actually – you can’t escape them. There are comments (and judgments) in every other status update coming up on your feed.
And somewhere among the jumble of opinions, someone has made the argument that this “isn’t about race.” More accurately, that the thousands of black people protesting on the streets are protesting something irrelevant. That this latest killing of a young man by police has nothing to do with the color of his skin. That institutional racism ended a long time ago.
The reasons why “this isn’t about race” will vary. Someone will share a CNN screenshot with raw numbers of people killed in police custody, “proving” that, technically, more whites than blacks are killed by police.
Someone else will bring up the fact that the Baltimore police department is way more diverse than that of Ferguson, so clearly it can’t be influenced by the race of the people it serves.
Black-on-black crime will come up, because it always does. And, of course, someone will bring in the trump card of Affirmative Action, whether it makes sense or not.
Ultimately, the insinuation will be that the pain, anger, and frustration protesters are saying they feel is invalid or, at best, misdirected. The fact that largely black communities are statistically more likely to have high rates of cyclical poverty and crime is attributed to something inherently wrong in those communities – absentee fathers, welfare-addicted mothers, drugs, gangs – denying even the possibility that the system treats blacks differently than it treats whites.
That, my friends, is racism.
When you have a minority population begging to be heard and a majority population refusing to hear them, you have systemic injustice.
The people protesting on the streets of Baltimore this week aren’t asking us for much. They aren’t looking for a reason to break laws or injure police. (The few do not define the many.) They aren’t asking for special privileges or for a free ride through life.
They are asking us to listen to them. They are asking us to acknowledge that they have experienced pain and injustice because of the color of their skin. They are asking us to believe them when they say that the injustices they have faced aren’t isolated experiences but a fundamental part of their daily lives. They are asking us to imagine what it would be like not to have the benefit of the doubt, to be mistrusted and judged the moment people look at you.
They are asking us to see them as people with a right to define the narrative of our society.