You know those moments when you have so much to say you don’t know what to say? Yeah. But I believe we need to keep saying it, keep talking about it. My Facebook feed has been a steady stream of memes, quotes, and misquotes revolving around race, the Ferguson verdict, police and guns. It’s exhausting, often disheartening, sometimes nauseating, but I’m not closing the tab and I’m not choosing to unfriend the people who are clearly on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me. I have friends who are, and I understand their choice.
I’m going to branch off from the verdict itself, it’s been covered and continues to be covered by people who understand the intricacies of the law much better than I ever will.
One evening a couple of weeks ago, Husband and I were watching a prerecorded concert with a variety of performers. I’ll tell you the truth, I found the majority of the performances to be lackluster, and I was just marking time until a show I wanted to watch came on. Something quality, probably one of the Real Housewives. Mid-yawn, someone with some passion came onstage. My first thought, oh look, it’s Eminem. Immediately followed by my chastising myself for being racist, just because it’s a white rapper doesn’t mean it’s Eminem. It was, but that isn’t the point. The point is the assumption.
I’m sure some people are out there who are so evolved they don’t make assumptions at first glance, but most of us do. That’s why those memes are so popular–one picture, brief caption, all our assumptions fill in the blanks. What those assumptions are grow from our ideology, affiliations, backgrounds, socio-economic class, and race. I know there are memes I’ve liked posted by people who attribute a completely different meaning to them.
“It isn’t about race.” Yes, it is. When white kids are taught to be respectful of the police while kids of color are taught not to speak, not to question, not to move, it is. When the people harmed by laws, policies, and assumptions are disproportionately people of color, it is. The same way laws and policies that affect women’s bodies are indeed about women, limiting their options and freedoms. Do these laws, policies, and assumptions affect all? They certainly do. Especially the poor and working class, people for whom choices are already limited, which is why I never understand when people I know are struggling financially support policies that ultimately make life harder for themselves and their own families. Why, when posting quotes and discussing police brutality, would anyone focus on those few looters? a) it just gives them airtime, b) they truly are few in number, a fraction of those who are protesting peacefully, c) I don’t know anyone who supports looting. Peaceful is not the same as quiet, and it shouldn’t need to be. Sometimes noise has to be made in order for the issues to be heard.
Here in Manhattan everyone lives shoulder to shoulder, but that isn’t to be confused with racial and/or socio-economic harmony. This morning Husband and I were talking about an apartment building in the area that’s been under renovations for quite some time. The building used to be all affordable housing, but they opted out of the program that kept it that way. This has happened with quite a few buildings here in the city. Some tenants have been able to stay, others have been booted out. This building is creating a new entrance. I guess they weren’t able to boot everyone out, Husband and I are assuming the old entrance will now be a “poor door.”
If you aren’t a New Yorker, that expression may be unfamiliar to you. Building developers like tax breaks. To get the big tax breaks, luxury buildings offer 20% of their apartments to less privileged families, “affordable housing.” Pretty cool. We used to live in one of those apartments. Not exactly the same as the other apartments, our countertops weren’t granite, the bathroom fixtures weren’t marble, but still lovely. I want to be clear, those affordable apartments aren’t free. Much lower than market rent, but if you live more than 40 miles from New York, Boston, San Francisco or LA, odds are your mortgage is equivalent or less than our rent was. There was a private gym and community office available for an annual fee. We didn’t use those, no big deal. But some of these buildings have added “poor doors.” Yanno, for the peasants like us to use. No big deal? Yes, it’s a big deal. Legal segregation. Wasn’t separate but equal determined to be against the constitution a long time ago?
How do I get from race and Ferguson to poor doors? The majority of those living under affordable housing regulations are people of color. I live in a neighborhood that’s pretty active politically, including quite a few senior citizens who remember and marched for civil rights. But somehow, though those poor doors have been challenged, they’re still here, still being included in plans for new buildings. New buildings, of course, that are built on properties that used to be rented by people living on limited incomes. I’ve yet to see any multimillion dollar brownstones owned by the affluent being razed to make way for luxury buildings.
Injustice is injustice, a young black man is more likely to be shot by police than a young white man, and when an us/them mentality is allowed to spread, it’s only a matter of time before them includes you. So yes, I’m exhausted, disheartened, nauseated, and so so sad we’ve yet to truly move forward.