I feel like I’ve been inundated with images of racist, classist victories. One scroll through my timeline and I see police in riot gear hitting DAPL protestors with sticks, white supremacist terrorists The Bundy Gang going free with no consequences, police at Portland City Hall pushing protestors down the stairs, hitting them with fists and batons and pepper spraying them, and for some reason a video of a 2015 arrest in which a officer kicks Hector Medina-Pena in the face, breaking his jaw while he was clearly on all fours on the ground in a prone position.
Writer and educator Annie Lamott posted an extremely nice thing for people who believe in God, but for the rest of us, “have faith” is just a little too much to ask in a world that already asks so much of us to begin with.
The first thing to do when injustice has us down is to make sure we don’t perpetuate that shitty behavior in our own lives. We have to take care of ourselves. When you’re feeling defeated, angry, tired, you’re no good to anyone. Turn off the computer, put the phone in a drawer and do something you have control over. Set the parameters of your activity so that success is assured. Then stop and do something else. This last bit I am very bad at, but this post isn’t about me.
The second thing is to embrace the gray areas. A black and white world may be easy in the moment, but it’s not the truth. When you look closely, you see that there are peaks and valleys, even in the most straightforward racist bullshit. We are not the heroes fighting a great enemy. We are the heroes fighting the heroes, both fighting a great enemy. Live in the paradox.
The officer who broke Hector Medina-Pena’s jaw believed he was apprehending a man who had just robbed a strip club and threatened the clerk with a gun, a crime Hector confessed to in May. Does committing a robbery justify a police officer breaking your jaw while you crouch on the pavement unarmed? Only a fascist would think that. Which is the problem. We’re not just fighting against the racist system that sets up white men who kick unarmed men of color in the face to be heroes, we’re fighting against a population who really believe fascism is the answer. Whether they know that or not, the eye for an eye set are frothing at the mouth for fascism.
Which is why we should closely examine the little voice that says that maybe that police officer could use a kick in the face to balance the scales. Maybe if he knew what it was like to feel his jaw fracture while laying prone on the ground as the literal boot of the oppressor crashes down onto his head, perhaps he would neglect to take such joy in future assaults? It’s important to look at our own relationship with fascist fantasies as they apply to our worldview and not just for the opposition.
Finally, we look to history. It feels bad now, but didn’t it feel bad when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on Kent State Students, murdering four peaceful protestors? Didn’t it feel hopeless when MLK was assassinated? Medgar Evers, Ruben Salazar, Malcom X? You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea. You can acquit a terrorist gang, but you can’t erase the footage of them bragging and laughing as they deface Paiute artifacts. You can hit peaceful protestors with sticks, hell you can shoot them, and they have before, but the wheels of progress keep turning.
The definition of liberalism is that we push the boundaries of tradition. What passed for liberal thought 20 years ago is regressive today. This is a fight we will not win. At best, we might live to become the conservative scourge we so revile. Now doesn’t that make you feel better?