Have you heard the name “Bruce Jenner”? Yeah, well I hadn’t until last night.
I’m going somewhere with this.
The gym in our apartment building has five TVs at either end– TVs that you can’t control or turn off. Oh sure, I listen to music on my headphones. I try to tune it out. But unless I’m prepared to start staring at the sweaty bodies next to me (I’m not), there’s really not much else I can look at.
And it’s really saying something when the least offensive programming is The Voice and Dancing with the Stars. I mean offensive not as in “I’m offended” but as in “Are you really going to put me through this for the next thirty minutes? Isn’t being on an elliptical punishment enough?”
The other TVs featured Bruce Jenner, Botched (a TV show as bad as it sounds, about plastic surgery gone awry) and the notorious Baltimore riots.
Do we really coverage of the riots is somehow better than watching an exlusive Diane Sawyer interview of Bruce Jenner and his personal life choices? Because the media on all TVs is preying on the same thing: our tendency to point at the decisions of other people and gawk. Moreover, do we really think our motivation in watching these riots is any better?
People trip on Dancing with the Stars and we gasp and laugh. People cry on The Voice and we feel like better people for empathizing with them. Bruce Jenner makes some decisions with his life and we have every imaginable kind of unreasonable reaction because, frankly, it’s just none of our business.
Riots break out in Baltimore and we take sides, wag fingers, cluck disapprovingly and post indignant Facebook statuses.
Ah, righteous indignation. It’s okay because it has the word “righteous” in it, amirite?
I’m just guessing wildly here, but I think that both the people of Baltimore and the cops that police it have difficult, complicated lives.
But there’s a systemic problem of cop violence against black people, you say.
True. And there’s a similarly systemic problem of insurbordination towards police officers, it would seem.
Phew. Now that we’ve got that sorted out, let’s talk solutions. Because one white cop may or may not be racist and he may or may not make a mistake. Then one black person may be angry at, wary of, or frightened of a cop and run. Then another cop might start to generalize the pattern here. And before you know it, we’ve got a full-blown situation of the Montagues VS the Capulets. No one is sure who started it. No one is willing to end it. Every one is angry and the situation just keeps escalating, darn it.
People are dying because people are choosing not to be the bigger person, to look past the stereotypes– on both sides. Maybe in our society we believe that cops should be first. They really shouldn’t be racist. Maybe we hold the protectors of our law to a higher standard.
Practically, how much of a difference does that make? Unless we are going to personally go around canvassing police officers and stripping them of their badges, what good does it do to insist that someone else ought to be first?
Yes, it’s scary being first. Yes, you might get seriously hurt or die. Then again, you might die in the crosshairs of two groups of people unwilling to be first. So goes life.
How about we– all of us– just try to see people as people? How about we do it first, without insisting that other people humanize us as a prerequisite? Unless we’re going to start some grassroots movement, lobby politicians and invent some radical, never-before-conceived plan to end racism once and for all, we won’t have all that much of an impact on this particular issue.
But we can. In our own way, we can. In our own lives, we can.
In my life I’ve been mocked and pushed around for being too Indian, not Indian enough, too smart, too stupid, too ugly, too pretty, too quiet, and too divisive. I promise you, if not race, we find something else to alienate ourslves. And this is the part that is harder to admit, but so necessary: In my own life I have judged other people and treated them poorly for equally superficial reasons.
THAT is the part that I can change. THAT is how I can do something different. THAT is how I can choose not to grab a pitchfork and join a side and criticize.
I can try and just see people as people, with all of their flaws, mistakes and struggles. I can try and care about them to the best of my ability.
And believe you me, I am aware how fluffy and unsubstantial that answer can sound. But really, we can’t even concieve of the power love. Really, we can’t. Someone, one person at first, chose to see me as a complete person, as more than the sum of my parts and because of that, I am the person I am today. Because of that, I judge people the tiniest fraction of what I used to. Because of that I am kind and soft and there are so many people I didn’t insult in my life. So many people that I actually loved instead. Because of that, my daughter is growing up happy and loving. I can’t see to the end of the ripples, but I know it’s huge.
Think about all those school shootings. Virginia Tech. Columbine. What would it be like if those people had just one person that really believed in them? Really cared? You can measure that difference in lives. And with the people out in Baltimore tonight. If they had someone that saw them as a person, not as their race, or their neighborhood, or the clothes on their back, that might be one less person in a riot, one more person safe at home.
So yeah, #blacklivesmatter. All lives matter. People matter. Disgruntled cops included. My fallible self included.
In the words of someone wiser than I: I don’t have time to worry about what is wrong with other people. I’m still trying to figure out what is wrong with me.