Another Round of Blackness

This one’s not about fat or feminism, but it is about bodies. It’s about the bodies of black people. I have no idea what good writing here about the apparently systemic abuse of black men by cops is going to do. I do know that when both the Fraternal Order of Police and the local version called recently, I had an automatic “Are you effing Nuts?!?” reaction, which I did not share. I did explain to the FOP guy that their Charity Navigator rating stinks and that they are notorious for NOT getting the money they collect to widows and orphans of cops killed in the line of duty in nearly the amounts they want us to believe. And I might also have said something to the effect that I was having trouble at the moment with police-related charities. Same with the local guy, though In that case I also explained that I don’t give over the phone without checking Charity Nav. for ratings. Now, of course, I’m worried about whether the subtle blackmail involved in cops calling to ask for donations–you might need us some day…–has any basis in fact. Not worried enough, I guess, to not let them know that they have kind of a huge PR problem at the moment, based on things like 80% (5 out of 6 in the very small town) of the police force and an assortment of other town officials resigned immediately when a black woman was elected mayor of Parma, MI. Missouri is developing quite the PR problem, come to think of it. Too much of the truth of our collective soul is revealed in the South. I’d hoped that they old joke about the South being our Freudian Slip would have lost relevance long since.

My town has a pretty solid police force. I know one cop fairly well. He’s a deeply good human who’s had to deal with some truly horrid stuff, and I choose to assume that he’s the norm over there in the Police Dept. rather than the exception. I know parents of kids who’ve been troubled who’ve got nothing but good to say about our cops. Of course, I’m a middle class white woman, so what would I know?

I’m pretty sure I’m a racist. I’m not sure there are many humans who aren’t, planet-wide. I’m also sure I’m full of various sorts of darkness and savagery. Most of us are. In some ways, it’s no big deal, since most of us have consciences we listen to most of the time. But it’s also The Deal, the whole one. And it’s The Deal all the time if you’re a cop. Because you have power, and power is the drug that puts conscience to sleep. It’s important to hang on to your when you’re dealing with property crimes, but it’s the whole work of dealing with matters that involve bodies. Cops like to talk about the “sacred trust” of their work. That “trust” is sacred precisely because it is centered on the human body. And unless that trust extends to EVERY human body a cop comes into contact with there is no trust.

Google “list of black men killed by police.” While it is not true that an African-American is killed by some version of a cop every 28 hours (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2014/12/24/the-viral-claim-that-a-black-person-is-killed-by-police-every-28-hours/), it is true that men of color (black, native-american, hispanic, in that order) are so much more likely to be killed by cops that the statistics cannot be lying. They are similarly likely to be incarcerated by a “justice” system that works increasingly hand-in-hand with for-profit prison systems where the bodies of those men are treated (especially in Texas) with horrifying disregard for their health and safety.

I’m pretty sure I’m a racist. I don’t fly a confederate flag (and am infuriated by those who do). I am careful as hell to both not avoid discussions of race when they come up in my teaching, and to handle those discussions as gently and precisely as I can. I am aware that some of my (relatively few–it’s pretty white here at Pretty Good U) black students are dealing with lives that are dangerously complex (recent studies show that getting into college is not the panacea for racial/economic division we’ve happily told ourselves it was), and that some of them are as middle-class as most of our students and still dealing with dangerous complexities just by being black. I could go on with the list of my progressive/liberal good behaviors, and they’re real. But I’m still pretty sure that I’m a racist. And that it is a wound on my soul as well as on the soul of my nation and my species.

But I do, wholly, believe that the bodies of of people with non-European skin are as sacred as mine. And watching the footage of black males (Tamir Rice was not a man yet) being killed by white cops, not by accident, and with significantly de-humanizing savagery (Eric Harris, Freddy Grey, Philip White, Tamir Rice, for instance) terrifies me. I haven’t seen figures, and wonder whether anyone has done the counting, but I am willing to bet that, while the killing of black (and other non-white) men by cops was always disproportionately high, it has increased since 2008. I suspect that this was, in some sense, inevitable, that the election of a black man to the highest office in the country would unlock a repugnant stew of racist that has been boiling barely beneath the surface since the Civil Rights Movement. But I didn’t think it would be this bad, either at the legislative level (i.e. Congress’s inexcusable willingness to let/make the whole country suffer in order to thwart that President), or at the street level. And while some of this demented increase in police power (and materiel force) can be laid heavily at the steps of 9/11 and the legacy of fear and loathing it left us to deal with (if they were trying to tear the fabric of the democracy, those men succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, though the fabric was already fragile, and though we do still stand).

But this is about bodies and cops and racism. If you’re a Jew, this body is all we have, this life the only one we have to live, so it is sacred. If you’re a Christian, this body is sacred because its Creator loved it so much that he chose to inhabit it in order to prove its sacredness to us. I wish I could speak accurately to other traditions’ understanding of the sacredness of the body, but other than the Manicheans (and there’s a reason they didn’t survive, mostly), I know of none that do not regard the body as, in some sense, sacred. And every Atheist I know is, if anything, even more committed to the sacredness (I use the term carefully) of the physical world precisely because it is what there is to value, to care for, ALL of what there is.

I’m pretty sure I’m a racist.But I do know that if EVERY body is not part of the sacred trust of policing, then no body is. Which leaves us in a very scary place.

2 thoughts on “Another Round of Blackness

  1. Miriam Sagan says:

    Super strong essay and points. I also have that (probably urban myth) fear that if you don’t give the cops won’t respond to a call for help–but I’m betting that’s just Middle Atlantic paranoia.
    For me as a teacher, a big prejudice I had to get over was towards police and military. I am from NJ, where the police force is notorious–think Turnpike etc. And was a peacenik. The day I had to overcome my stereotypes was actually a good day for me. Not that all of my prejudice was unfounded–in the world, but not in the classroom.

    • fatmatters says:

      We so badly want to make racism a simple issue, and it isn’t. I become more and more convinced that trying to make it simple is, in itself, racist. I have such a nasty long list of prejudices (mostly having nothing to do with race and much more to do with fundamentalisms, willful stupidities, and bad behavior that isn’t mine…), but I suspect many of us do. It’s just that racism is doing/has always done such corrosive damage.

      I hadn’t thought about the fact that the classroom can be a haven even for teachers. Thanks for that.

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