When you can say nothing?
I am at a loss today. I know that I must write, must share my thinking, my grief and my outrage. I know that because I am a white man and will be heard, that I must make sure that I am heard. But where do I begin? What can I say that would even come close to easing the pain of over a half millennia of subjugation? Whatever could I, ever say?
A pithy story about how I was pulled over by the police for speeding and had to go to traffic court, pay a small fine and go home as if nothing happened at all; if anything, shows my life to be as fully removed from this reality as it could be. The hard truth I swallow is that I will never know what it feels like to be a person of color in this country. I will never experience real existential fear, not even when Time comes calling for me. I can never know the humiliation and basic disrespect of life that is shown to the people of color whom I call friends and colleagues. I live in the very same world, the very same town; yet the two, mine . . . and theirs, exist separately together, without any apparent incongruence; yet totally divided.
I like to think of myself as a good person. I work hard at treating my dogs well and I am proud that I recycle regularly. Saving the earth and all that. But in writing these words, I picture myself a tall, white ostrich with his head fully buried in the sand. “If I do not know about it, I am not responsible for it,” or so my inner mantra chants. “This one is too big for me,” my body aches in sentiment. “What could I possibly say that would ever make a difference?” I will share with you what I know. My fear is that it will be a pitiful palliative for this massive world of hurt that we are living in.
Bias. Intrinsic bias. Tribal and confirmation biases. Here is one place where we can look together. Evolution is a bitch. She rewards fear and not trust. Early humans who were not afraid of predators were easily killed. Those who survived, our fore-parents, did so because of their fear. That fear was handed down over a thousand generations, to us. Imagine our luck. We speak of it with great regularity. We call it our fight or flight response. Those more enlightened have added a third term for us to consider. They say fight, flight or make friends. Unfortunately making friends comes with risk, pain and potential death. So say the genes of our ancestors.
This fear evolved in what is now commonly known as Tribal Bias. Our evolution has taught us to be wary of those who do not look like us. This is a base instinct and can be over written, yet it exists in all of us. I imagine, and I have not studied this part so I speak with minimal authority here, because I have seen children of different colors playing easily together that the pain of prejudice finds nourishment in the anxiety of puberty. The time in life when testosterone and fear are palpable in their bitterness. It is this time that the desire to be accepted by one group almost always requires that we disparage another.
Confirmation bias. Here is one of my favorites. Not because I like it so, but because it is, and always will be, the most insidious of them all. Confirmation bias is hard to spot in oneself. Take this inane example. My mother always chastised me for never picking up my toys. I, on the other hand, said that I did indeed pick them up with regularity. Now never means that not once did I pick them up. This of course was not true. I believe that most times I did and sometimes I did not. Now here is confirmation bias. My mother believed that I never did. Here opinion was reinforced every time she found a toy not put away. On the times she did not see toys left out, her mind paid no attention to it at all. There was no confirmation of her opinion. My experience was the opposite. I knew that I put the toys away. There were times when I was not finished playing, when I did not put them away. My confirmation bias remembered only the times I did put them away. The things we focus on are the things we recall and hold emotions, memories and opinions about.
The painful real life example would be: If I believed that people of color were responsible for all crime, then every time I saw it reported as such on the news, or heard someone speak about it this way, my bias for this belief would be confirmed. If I heard or saw anything different, my mind would not register it. This is what is happening in our society today. We have let our tribal fear, coupled with confirmation bias, direct and dictate our policing behaviors. I believe it to be that simple. The question begging to be answered: How do you change a specieal lifetime of evolution? (I am going with the make friends part knowing just exactly how risky it is.)
I would like to say just one thing about the violence we are now experiencing. It is a symptom, not the cause. Like the inflammation and pain that comes with a raging infection, the violence we are living through may either be treated or let run its course. I am not wise enough to address this question, for it is left to better women and men than me. What I do know is that we need to work on digging out the source of the infection. The cause of this unrest. We need to collectively remove our heads from the sand and see exactly what is happening in the bright light of day and remove those individuals who seek to create and feed this festering national illness simply out of pubescent fear.
I do not know the answer. This is one that we must all seek together. I hope that knowing some of the why may help to lead us in the best direction.
Until next time,