Thursday, December 4, 2014

#BlackLivesMatter


While I’ve re-posted articles on Facebook, I’ve written nothing personally or professionally about the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In all honesty, I’m fearful of saying the wrong thing; I am a white woman who has experienced many of the privileges that that bestows. I can and have gotten it wrong. Thinking about the #BlackLivesMatter movement again today (in light of another Grand Jury decision not to indict), I feel an intensifying anger, and while the experience of oppression cannot be shared, the outrage is, or should be, shared, and in being shared it must be something of which we all speak in the best way we know how. Fear, after all, is part of the problem.I am angry.
 
I am furious. The friends and families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and far, far too many other Black human beings should not be grieving the loss of their loved ones. They should not be experiencing, privately and publicly, the lack of justice in this country … yet again. Black human lives should not be cut short. I say “human beings” with intention and fury, because Black lives have, and continue to be, treated as less than all others.Morton Deutsch, a social psychologist and researcher, defines oppression as “the experience of repeated, widespread, systemic injustice” (Deutsch, Justice and Conflict, The Handbook of Conflict Resolution. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006). Deutsch explains in simple language the forms oppression takes as injustice. All of them apply here, but the one that has me most outraged is how systematically Black lives have been morally excluded.  In the words of Deutsch, "moral exclusion or the scope of injustice is concerned with who is included in the moral community and who is thought to be entitled to fair outcomes and fair treatment.”  Furthermore, moral exclusion occurs “when individuals and groups who are outside the boundary in which considerations of fairness apply may be treated in ways that would be considered immoral if people within the boundary were so treated” (Deutsch, “A Framework for Thinking about Oppression and Its Change,” Social Justice Research, 2006).


The United States’ “justice” system’s furthering of oppression through a failure to bring to justice those who have killed Black human beings is unacceptable. Police officers make mistakes. They are human. However, this is not an isolated incident, the mistake of one person.  Deutsch further writes: “Retributive injustice is concerned with the behavior and attitudes of people, especially those in authority, in response to moral rule breaking… almost every comparison of the treatment of Black and White criminal offenders indicates that, if there is a difference, Blacks receive worse treatment.” There is a history and pattern here of Black loss of life due to police brutality. This is a case of moral exclusion + distributive injustice + procedural injustice + retributive injustice + reparative injustice + cultural imperialism = oppression = lack of accountability and consequences = justifications for killing Black Human Beings = getting away with murder.


I’m a queer-identified white woman married to a queer-identified Brown woman, raising an Indian-Irish-Italian child. In his lifetime, this violence toward Black lives must stop, but the white population in our country allows, and often benefits from it continuing.  Professionally, I studied Morton Deutsch in graduate school, whose expertise in the social psychology of justice was at the heart of my final project. His words spoke to me nearly twenty years ago and they do still, as my anger intensifies at the systematic oppression of Black human beings. I recognize that I have had the privilege of not having been born with the right to that anger. Instead my anger comes from being an ally and that should and does matter much less. I feel that anger out of solidarity, but my white privilege means I will never share the space within which the anger of racial oppression truly exists.


I’m the daughter of a retired police sergeant who had over 30 years on the job. I loved going to the police station as a kid, hanging out with his police buddies, getting fingerprinted and pretend locked up in the real jail.  I felt safer there than anywhere else in the world.  The contrast of the experience I had as a young white girl with a police officer father to that of too many young Black men is not lost on me.  I know my father’s job was not an easy one as I witnessed the pain in his eyes from all he saw more than I’d like to recall. It took a huge toll not just on him, but on all of us directly and indirectly, day after day. It is no accident that I became a mediator, as my Dad instilled a desire for justice in my tiny being. He taught me that no one’s life is worth more than any other. He taught me about accountability and apology. He taught me about forgiveness.


But what I learned on my own was that power and privilege matter and cannot go ignored. I learned that the anger of the oppressed matters and that it is my responsibility to listen without judgment or justification or defensiveness to those who have less power and privilege; and to speak out against oppression.


I began writing this post earlier in the day and as I conclude it this evening protesters march in cities throughout the country. #BlackLivesMatter

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