On The Violence of White Apathy


“Even with videotaped evidence of police destroying black people, many freedom-loving Americans remain unconvinced of a systemic problem. Maybe some day the perfect tape will be released, one in which the dead or maimed African American has just the right wardrobe, complexion, size and diction to warrant empathy.”

-Jesse Williams

Again, today, a black man has been shot by the police.

Again, I watched [white] friends obsess over everything but the video — the next party, or similarly defined frivolous, escapist distraction. From them, I saw a singular sympathetic, unexpected Facebook post. Then deafening silence.

Again, I watched black friends and public figures grieve in expressions of horror and felt a different kind of deafening silence.

Again, I seethe, watching three white men with brooding faces in their profile photos make excuses for the cops, on the post.

I seethe, and I write.

This pattern has unfolded for me many times in a multitude of ways. I hesitate to even take up this emotional space in this moment, to believe that this think piece will even reach anyone who doesn’t think the same way as I do.

That words can light a fire or move oceans, or be more than blood on pavement — that I have any power at all to change a [white] mind, even if I am one.

I struggle with doubt and wonder, and consider whether this think piece I’ve written four different times is seeking justification for my feelings of rage or seeking justice. Am I here writing to alleviate the feeling that I think I should slap everyone I see in the Equinox for not being glued to locker room TV screens, computers, or their home, crying in pillows? Or am I here writing because it is useful and necessary for others to read this?

Into the evening, FOX News keeps up Donald Trump coverage while people share videos of the shooting without warnings, on autoplay, probably on our timelines 6 times in the morning, seen, seen, seen. You know that everyone [probably] saw it.

If they didn’t, they probably used social media’s algorithms to become apolitical because they have the privilege not to care about politics.

I ask myself — does it always take something like this to get [white] people to care?

How many bodies is it going to take before we admit that we have problems? Alton Sterling’s death was essentially an execution, and we’re all still waiting for the man in charge in Baton Rouge to come out and tell us what excuse he’s come up with to make sure these officers are not charged with killing a man in cold blood.

Waiting to move on with our lives, get back to our comfortable, safe homes and walk down streets at night without fear for our very lives.

That’s some bullshit.

I understand that America is “based on personal freedom” [white proverb], but when it’s clear that the system is failing, when we have failed, and failed by being entitled to comfort, failed by being entitled to not fearing police, failed by having faith that a former slaveholding nation did not have issues of systemic racism — we should CARE. We should be giving a lot of fucks. But we don’t, because we literally have no skin in the game. This is enraging.

[and I promise, I’m not the only one feeling enraged today]

Emotionally, I am enraged by the apathy of the privileged. The entitlement of people whose action or inaction suggest that white feelings and comfort should be valued above black lives. I am enraged by the violent suggestion that these issues are not rooted in race [that is tacit consent to the killings of black men by police]. Because this is exactly what you are implying by not caring about them, by being apolitical, by engaging in escapism, and indulging selfish, privileged, petty desires. I am enraged for the families of the victims, and enraged for everyone in this country who cannot feel safe walking down the street because of the color of their skin.

Intellectually, I am enraged by the systemic disregard for justice and fairness of any sort in this country, despite the fact that these are staples in philosophical discussion and should be understood far more widely. Their implications for selflessness are not only intellectually justified, but also account for emotion, and I firmly stand for this and against continued collective ignorance on these important topics. I am horrified by the elimination of emotion from discourse, and further horrified by those who would distract themselves from issues of politics by saying that they are not important or stimulating, because this is a form of privilege too. I am disgusted by those who distract or troll with lazy ideas like ‘what about black on black violence in Chicago’, or those who make weak and lazy excuses about white self-care, those who indulge white feelings above all things (like Trump or Clinton).

The time has long passed for excuses.

It is abundantly clear that a great segment of white people in this countryactually think that they’re getting the short end of the stick, or unaware that they have the long end. This is mind-bogglingly frustrating, depressing, and incredibly dangerous. In case you haven’t been paying attention, we [white people] have gotten so riled up about it that this election is focused almost entirely on white issues. [Because if whiteness isn’t the center of attention, they’re missing out!]

In 2016.

In spite of #BlackLivesMatter.

In spite of police violence.

In spite of re-electing the first black president.

The irony is so deep that the ones complaining or ignoring the election are often the same people that prattle on about the modern generation’s entitlement or our sense of millennial privilege, when they are the ones who cannot handle, even for a moment, a serious discussion (much less a President) focused on concerns that are not their own. If recent events are not clear proof of white supremacy in this country, I don’t know what is.

In fact, on days like today, I’m not truly sure which is worse: the people who are violent in their bigotry, or violent in their apathy.

Both groups are responsible for the continuation of these deaths. Both groups are responsible for not holding the elected officials and officers accountable for their actions. Both groups are complicit in upholding white supremacy and complicit in the deaths of black and brown americans. I see this as a self-evident truth.

2016 seems to be the year in which a lot of shit has hit the fan. Hopefully, reckoning with this shit — our collective awfulness and privilege — will produce a positive reaction, one of collective education, strength, and understanding. But we might also choose to bury our heads in the sand and be comfortable with our selfishness and privilege [as we seem quite pleased doing thus far].

Understand that choosing the latter means you have no interest in equal rights for black and brown people in the United States. This is violent, racist, and unacceptable. If you choose this, I have no time for you. I have nothing more to say to you.

Rest in Power Alton. I hope that this time, we see some form of justice served.


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