Tuesday, August 18, 2015
HRC Meets BLM
There is a real difference, maybe in part a generational one, looking at this as mostly a dialog between Baby Boomer-era politicians and Millennial-era protesters, but also as Betty Cracker explains it at Balloon Juice, a conflict between how idealists and pragmatists look at the problem--but I think I can kind of define the dialog here as: they are both right.
Some of Hillary Clinton's language is probably jarring--"I don't believe you change hearts" is actually sensible when you realize she is saying you can't actually make total racists shut up and love black people--all you can do is change the paradigm in which they operate and make it less acceptable for them to wantonly destroy black lives. Many of her suggestions about racial inequality still shake out along a different argument than the Black Lives Matter movement is trying to make--yes it would be better if there were better schools, better access to jobs, better housing opportunities, and de-segregating neighborhoods would be really awesome--and those are perfectly good 60's and 70's answers that totally didn't happen.
Now the message of today's protestors is a little more distinct: Black people would highly prefer that their being killed is recognized as a problem. Whether it's from police brutality or just negligence, or whether civilians think they can go vigilante justice on black people without any real basis and get away with it, there actually needs to be an awareness shift that killing black people is wrong and leaving aside all "change the subject" stuff about black-on-black violence, we just agree that if something is killing black people in society a lot, it is bad and we shouldn't have it.
That isn't always a policy-based problem--although it can be. It will likely mean a change in people's hearts. I think some things, like doing away with grand jury process for wrongful death officer-involved shooting processes that move right to "charge or don't" on the discretion of the justice system might be sensible, since grand juries, based on the Ferguson example, are theater at best. I think sentencing requirements that do away with mandatory minimums that disproportionally affect black people might be helpful. But even if we improve access to education and employment, and reduce sentencing for black people who are introduced to the carceralization system, we still haven't addressed why black people end up in lethal confrontations--and how this is a reason why bad laws have to be conscientiously abjured, and why proclaiming a better relationship with black communities even to the extent of copping to prior biased thought is necessary--to create better, less lethal mindsets. Neither a job or a degree ever made anyone bulletproof.
No one likes being called a White Supremacist except for your Klans folks and skinheads and Neo-Nazis--when Hillary Clinton is addressed as having supported a White Supremacist legal system, she is edgy about it--but lots of white people have never made the necessary connection between our ideals of Law'n'order and the idea that blacks constitute, if not a criminal class, a natively suspect class, that has been disproportionately viewed as culpable or guilty before being determined to be innocent--and potentially dangerous, and we still profile in a kneejerk way. We don't consciously view why people think Rodney King was "asking for it" or why we blamed Hurricane Katrina victims for not having pulled themselves out of harm's way by their own bootstraps. Understanding why no level of wrongdoing invited anyone to beat the shit out of Rodney King, and that the bodies floating in the filthy water of the breached levy of the Ninth Ward were truly victims of their grinding poverty--not their own failure to provide solutions for themselves, is a step we, white Americans, have not fully taken.
That's why many people remain hostile to the concept of "Black Lives Matter" as a separate and necessary ethos. They can't center their energy on these people, thought to be bringing about their own misery all the time. They see Black Lives as the problem, in need of facilitating their own solution, without our white asses getting on board. Which we need to.
We're a little stuck. I don't know how to make racist (or unconsciously biased) white people see this issue how I do, and being white, if I don't, I don't know how black folks will do it. So I'm stuck talking about policy as Clinton did because it's all I know how to do. When Clinton asks them to tell her what they need, she isn't victim-blaming--she is being honest. Aware white people know we can only do what we can. Yes, we don't know how to fix race relations. Requesting black input is our idea of addressing the issue. No, we know that isn't great. But we have to find our solutions together.
I don't know how Hillary Clinton thinks, but I have an idea about her limitations, and they aren't the worst. I felt from that conversation she was trying to learn, and that has to count for something. It's a beginning. I don't think the conversation with her ends there. She's not perfect, but I feel like she did listen.