Disclaimer: It is true that not everything is about race. However, cheap it would be foolish to disregard the public’s consensus on the dynamics of race – especially when they contribute to the outcomes of a social issue or an act of injustice in the criminal justice system itself.
It is important to know that I experience life and share these thoughts through the filter of a black woman. We all have shades over our eyes that dictate how we see the world – which, in turn, comes from how we are treated by the world.
To break down the, “if he/she were black…” narrative that is criticized, we must come to an understanding. We all experience very different lives. However, among the degrees to which life varies from person-to-person is the encompassing factor of one’s race.
When I attended a workshop hosted by Charles C. Smith, he shared something insightful that echoes in my mind to this day. As a poet, playwright, and essayist known for his studies of black culture and portraying the struggles and lives of his people through art, he told us he is often asked why his work is so “political”. He said something along the lines of, “I don’t make everything political. My whole life is political”.
If you think about it, the statement is not much of a stretch. From the Three-Fifths Compromise in America, to the Black Loyalists fighting with the British Crown in exchange for freedom in Canada – nay, from bringing and exchanging black slaves in the first place – the lives of black people are heavily dictated by the pigment of their skin. Though these conditions were set up in the late 1700s, the division between races distorts itself in numerous ways today.
There is proof of people believing that black people’s lives are worth less than others in the United States of America. Ask George Zimmerman how much he believed Trayvon Martin’s life was worth. Black Loyalists were given smaller, and often unproductive land settlements to their white veterans, and today, we see footage of black people being pulled over or detained for walking in “white” neighbourhoods, or streets with houses of exceptional monetary value.
These cell-phone videos, news articles, and police reports tell of a world of problems for people who encounter trouble simply because they are a few shades darker than their instigators. So, it is no wonder that when a crime is committed by a white person, and the situation did not smear the image of the offender, escalate to aggression, or end with a death, black folks shake their heads. Most of the motions to disrupt the status quo is perceived as an oppositional statement.
When people hear of these tragedies, they cannot help but put themselves in the shoes of the victims. Everyone looks to their families, hugging them a little tighter at night, or shooting an extra “I love you” text. They are scared to imagine the same horror happening to them. For black people, wondering what would become of us in that situation is vastly different than the white person’s train of thought. We go through the same emotions, and we want the violence to stop too. However, when we put ourselves in these situations, we know that if the attacker was black or a brown-skinned Muslim, they would not be labelled mentally disturbed, or taken into protective custody. We know that the response would have a different headline.
When black people – or a person of any other colour – try to bring attention to something that has happened in society and notice race as a contributing factor, I do not think it is their intention to start a fight or a pity-party. At least, speaking for myself, I know that is not the case. It is a call to avoid pushing a disturbance under the rug. It is a call to be proactive about the next issue that is sure to come.
Next time a conflict reaches nation-wide attention, and a person-of-colour expresses agitation about the outcome of the sentence, the media’s coverage, or the response from the public, do not discount it right away. There is likely merit to what they are saying. When they point out an event or inaction that is contingent on race, they are being realistic.
We know you are sympathetic of the situation. We are too. The next step is to be empathetic. Try to see the situation through the lens of someone who is affected by these situations differently. When people-of-colour are treated as inferiors, experience prejudice in stores, and are detained or killed without charge, we cannot help but be upset. This does not take away from the severity or injustice of the situation. It does not insinuate that no one else suffers simply because a race of people is being targeted. We are grappling with the issue – in addition to the nagging feeling that we may experience the same thing simply because of the colour of our skin.
We cannot change how people react to us based on our skin, the same way we cannot change the skin we are in. While “not everything is about race” may be true, it must be acknowledged that our race does affect everything we experience.
Written by Sherlyn A.