The masking of violence
Dominant culture is good at covering up its violence. A Black person is killed and people, especially white people are shocked and outraged. They post to social media, put out statements condemning violence, maybe even take an action such as join a protest or make a donation, then life moves on. The violence becomes normalized and eventually forgotten or dismissed.
Dominant culture is good at reworking, rewording, redefining violence. It comports the violence to protect itself and to make violence acceptable. It explains it away and blames others. The blame sounds like this: “They shouldn’t have been there,” “He shouldn’t have had a gun,” “She shouldn’t have dated him,” “Why did they take their kid to the protest?” All of these excuses deflect blame and cover up the violence that preceded these statements. It is a way to normalize violence and to create an emotional safety net of believing it couldn’t happen to us, somehow our privileges will protect us.
Violence is in the bones of America
Violence like racism, protects itself. It creates ways to continue forward, switching its tactic and comports itself to continue perpetuating harm. Violence is in the bones of the country. The country was founded and built on violence. If you read history from a POC perspective you’ll understand what I mean – original settlers coming to America because of their anger at the crown, Native Americans forced off their land, slavery, incarcerations of people of color, etc. Violence against people of color is deep in the American psyche. Tonight as I read the March Book 3, by Representative John Lewis to my kid, I had to pause and remember the story was from the 1960s even though so much of it is the same violence happening today. I chafe at the phrase of history repeating itself, more like we never made came to terms with our racism and racist past.
Recently in an online group I watched a thread about a racist incident go through its motions. After people read the post about the racist incident, white people wrote they were shocked and outraged and then began to get dismissive and wanting to focus on how it happened versus the intent of the racist violence. When white people say they are shocked, it is another form of violence since it is saying “OMG this is the first time I’m learning about something.” Many POCs have little tolerance left for this type of commentary, and many find it retraumatizing since it forces them to re-explain, defend, refocus people on the original intention. This is where many POCs say they are exhausted – exhaustion by the original violence and then having to relive it, explain it, think about it, be present for it.
Systems Change is Important
Before I end on a depressing note, there are ways to combat the violence. One is we have to do our personal work around understanding race and reckoning with our emotions, thoughts, and reflect on how we are complicit with the systems of racial violence we live with. The second is we need to work towards better systems to prevent violence towards Black and Brown people, and when violence does happen to hold people accountable for that violence.
Systems change attempts to stem violence by fundamentally changing the policies, behaviors, and practices that lead to violence. It isn’t perfect and still needs people to implement the change, but it gives anchor points for people to point to change mindsets, behaviors, and hold people accountable for when they do act unjustly.
We can achieve systemic changes if we work towards them, we also have to acknowledge the harm and violence of the past as we do so. Police reform is a must – white people need to get behind this movement and follow the lead of the Black/African American community working on this. Voting rights and allowing everyone to vote, including felons and immigrants. Why is those with the most to lose can’t vote – it isn’t by accident felons, immigrants, poor people, Black and Brown and others who are marginalized have to fight to vote. We also need systems change in honoring Native American rights, recognition of Pacific Islanders (look up COFA – Compact of Free Association), environmental protections and working towards more climate sustainability, health care as a human right, holistic education for students of color, housing, and employment without discrimination.
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