Once upon a time, race was top five in topics of discussion likely sparred about in living rooms or over after and dinner swigs of wine. It wasn’t aired out entirely in public on non-political forums. Nowadays, however, opinionated word vomit spews out and blends across social media platforms. This gives anyone with a cell and access to a computer the ability to choose a side when another police officer murders a black man or woman. Every so often I’ll join the Twitter picket line and offer up my position on whatever matter is currently hashtagged. But for the most part, I stick to debating the weight of race relations and race-related issues with my inner circle, which has, since the exponential increase of black people being killed by police, revealed a lot about who my friends and I really are in the grand scheme of society.
Tragic collisions between blue-collared authorities and the black community always hit home, but the #BaltimoreUprising—following the death of Freddie Gray—not only shook the last bit of patience I had with systemic racism, but also rattled me enough to sound off on social media with rage.
“Everyone’s reporting live from the safety of their homes,” I wrote. “E- screaming at each other for having opposing opinions about whether we should or should not use violence to get our point across. We all want the same thing, but how do we get there? When this media storm and social media activism rests, what’s next? How do we really get police to stop killing us? We’re all outraged. We all get it. But until we stop being so damn divided about how we reach our common goal, it’s the same story. AGAIN.”
It’s a sentiment not immediately understood in the midst of Internet white noise, especially not by friends who are used to me sliding into their inbox about racial matters before I would even think about causing an uproar. But those off-the-cuff thoughts were scrolled over and felt, allowing my non-black friends to respond either online or in my inbox. Responses fell on two sides. There were the white friends who either lacked understanding, exhibiting some faux #AllLivesMatter crap or those who quickly hit the unfollow button. And then there were my fellow black and brown brethren who felt, to some degree, for a city burning in the name of another American injustice. It wasn’t until I had a heart-to-heart with my Filipino friend, Adelle, and later, a conversation with my friend of Puerto Rican heritage (his blasé attitude about Baltimore folks being deemed “thugs” was truly the most eye-opening moment of our friendship), that I realized the key catalyst for how a conversation can go left or go right is understanding.
Now, to believe a friend who wasn’t born black could grasp the full magnitude of black Americans being hunted by those who’ve sworn to protect and serve is foolish, but it doesn’t take a poet laureate with a Ph.D. to enter into every dialogue with an open mind and open ears. After Mike Brown, I found the comfort in most of my non-black friends’ emotions to be calming. They felt the sadness, respected the shift in the racial climate and sought to understand why I believed burning down one’s own neighborhood wasn’t right but sometimes necessary.
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter may have said it best:
“I’ve never been black, OK? So I don’t know. I can’t put myself there. I’ve never faced the challenges that they face, so I understand the emotion, but I can’t … It’s a pet peeve of mine when somebody says, ‘Well, I know what they’re feeling. Why don’t they do this? Why doesn’t somebody do that?’ You have never been black, OK? So just slow down a little bit.”
Clearly, he gets it.
I’m a firm believer that the seriousness of what’s happening in Baltimore, Ferguson, Cleveland and every other city that’s overrun with the blood of innocent black lives should be discussed at length–to the point of exhaustion really–in order for every culture to learn tolerance so that we can work together. To me, to blatantly default to blissful (and privileged) ignorance and have an unwillingness to show compassion for several hundred years worth of being preyed upon and mistreatment screams racism. To simply downplay these injustices to talk about “black-on-black crime” instead is a slap in the face. To act like you know what it’s like when you have no clue, is a joke. But with friends, I’ve learned to tread lightly; to nurture their perception of blacks with authenticity and love. Instead of flipping out on them, I have the chance to help open their minds. To have them look at these injustices in a new light. To bolster understanding. As a friend and someone who genuinely wants to see things change, that’s important to me.