Vagueness kills. Too many people in the United States have only a vague notions of past entitlements, and not enough direct knowledge of guilt. To say that you have privilege is abstract and far from compelling. It’s the psychological equivalent of lazy writing.
Speaking of lazy, I am guilty of failing to fully disclose who I am. People often perceive me as an ethnic-other, and my last blog post on the issue did not help matters any. The fact remains that in my existence I don’t just represent Africans and Native Americans. I am every bit as much descended from the westernmost reaches of Eurasia.
Furthermore, in my existence I don’t have the benefit of vagueness and fuzzy math regarding my bloodline’s donations to genocide. There are Mayflower descendants in my family tree…y’know, folks who in the long run helped make the downfall of aboriginal culture possible. There were slave owners in my family…whereas most people of the paleskinned persuasion were not wealthy enough to actually own slaves, perhaps occasionally renting them from their owners at best.
Then there was the family member who rose through the ranks of the New York City Police Department in the late 1800s. A humorous anecdote told to me about his time on the force was his method of getting confessions from suspects, namely throwing them down flights of stairs. When he retired from the NYPD he rounded up all the ex-cons he had been responsible for putting away initially, then forced them to construct his dream home under threat of going back to prison. I still have the dinner bell from his back porch, a massive and ornate bell originally used in a mid-1800s firehouse in New York City–go do a search and check out the horse-drawn fire engines from the time. Cool stuff.
Clearly one side of my bloodline benefitted from ill-gotten gains, illustrating the one truth to come out of the recent brutality incidents and resulting riots: when you treat people as if their actions don’t matter they behave accordingly. Meaning if I have dark skin it does not matter if I do what I am supposed to so I might as well do whatever; if I have light skin I will not be punished for doing wrong so I might as well do whatever. Of course, that theory ignores anecdotal and video evidence of police agitators in some riots, but that’s none of my business.
The point is I have a lot of history to live down. Which sucks, because my mother ran off and married a black dude back when that was not cool, so I grew up in poverty without even having the benefits of those ill gotten gains I need to live down.
We have reached the point where I should unveil a secret about myself. This is something I’ve maybe told four people in my life. See, all the above family stuff is detailed but still doesn’t relate directly to me, right? So. Back in the 9th grade I was the stereotypical angry young guy. My (paleskinned) friend and I were walking down the street when a metro bus went by, and on the bus was the bane of my friend’s existence. Let’s call this bane Fred. Fred had fixated on my buddy, calling him all the time, showing up unannounced at his home, following him around school in true Single White Female fashion. Ranking among Fred’s attributes were his casual racism against blacks and Latinos as well as his advanced degree of misogyny, exemplified by the poem he wrote for a girl he was madly in love with at his family’s church (titled “Date Rape”–and yes he got in trouble for that).
When Fred rode by he waved at us with unbridled exuberance. My friend and I looked at each other in exasperation. We had tried hanging up on him, telling him not to call, admitting we were inside my friend’s house and just didn’t want to answer the door when he showed up. They guy wasn’t able to take a hint by conventional means. My buddy says to me, “You know what? Fred lives right by here.”
So we walked over to his apartment complex without a plan, just following our indignation. My buddy showed me Fred’s apartment, a ground level deal situated on a courtyard. It was the middle of the day, so none of the working class inhabitants was around. We looked at each other again and hatched the idea to smash his bedroom window. In retrospect I’m unsure what this was meant to accomplish, but I took a look around one last time, then shattered the window with my heel. Aside from the crash of glass you’d never know anything was wrong; I just looked like a guy casually leaning against a wall.
My friend took things a step further, though. He went in and liberated several of Fred’s Nintendo games. This made me very nervous. We left. Nothing happened. From watching TV and films you are trained to think there will be some dramatic followup to a crime being committed.
It was only much later that I learned something did indeed take place without my realizing it. See, when Fred’s family returned home they discovered two young boys of African dissent riding around that courtyard in circles on Fred’s bicycle. They had gone into his room and were joyriding right at the scene of the crime. Perhaps they even meant to return the bike after having some fun, who knows. They took the blame for our deeds, though, and Fred joined the KKK.
Yes, the Ku Klux Klan was very active where I grew up, and continued to be as I entered adulthood. So my idiotic feeling that my behavior didn’t matter not only gave the KKK a soldier, it had untold repercussions on those kids who went into Fred’s apartment after us. As an aside: if you happen upon a residence with a smashed window do not enter thinking, “Well, it’s okay since I didn’t break the window!”
Plenty of those who encounter me likely come away feeling that I have an overdeveloped sense of “honor” or, even better, a warped sense of honor. And haters will read about my above foul-up and cackle themselves to sleep tonight. Regardless, I’m just saying I do have some stuff to make up for in terms of my family history, and personal actions. Maybe you don’t feel the same way about your family or your (in)actions.
In fact maybe you find yourself reading this and wondering how it applies to you if you currently don’t find yourself in, say, a chokehold. How about the fact that in 2012 New York City spent $735 million on police abuse cases in a city of 8.4 million people, translating into $87.50 a year in each person’s taxes. Or, what we’ll call “police welfare” since it is in addition to tax money spent on regular operation of the NYPD. In contrast the average United States taxpayer in 2012 paid $36.82 a year toward Food Stamps, school lunch assistance, and other similar government programs. That’s less than half the cost of police welfare, so we can argue all day whether there are really “welfare queens” or not, but one that cannot be argued is who the welfare kings are.
Have you checked what your local city, county, or state has spent in your money on cases related to the various types of police brutality, corruption, and so forth? That information is a matter of public record, and if you’re reading this you have the computer access necessary to figure out how much money the police are taking out of your pockets by refusing to enact meaningful reform.
I could hope, instead, that you’ll read about my above familial guilt and want your actions to balance out for what people like us have done. I’m guessing the cash incentive approach will prove more effective, though.
Be sure to tune in next time for “Male Pattern Boldness, or: The Science of Gender Inequality (Yes! There is Actual Science Behind It!).” Alternately, if you enjoyed this blog read “Pigmentally Challenged, or: Sometimes I’m Glad My Father Died.”