A few weeks ago I had an editorial ready to go, but it was pulled because we had to write about the Pulse nightclub shootings. This last week feels like deja vu.
In times like these it’s always difficult to find the appropriate response. Often, it feels like the only right thing is to listen — to the victims’ families, to our leaders or even to our friends and families — to voices from our community.
After the recent shootings of young, black men by police officers, I heard two thoughts that have stuck with me: The first from President Obama, who explained his view of racial tensions in the starkest terms of his presidency. He explained that blacks and Latinos in American society don’t just feel our laws and law enforcement target them — facts show the criminal justice system actually does treat them more harshly than it does whites.
Not feelings — facts.
Obama documented the realities of what it means to live in this society as a black or Latino-American: Minorities are 30-percent more likely to be pulled over, three times more likely to be searched, and twice as likely to be shot by police.
Those statistics were specifically relevant to those two shootings. Obama did not address other statistics that prove broader racial biases — such as the incarceration rates for minorities. For example, according to the NAACP, blacks and Latinos comprise nearly 60 percent of all prisoners, while only accounting for approximately one quarter of the population (2008); one in six black men has been incarcerated (2001) and, if trends continue, it would ultimately be one-in-three in his lifetime; blacks are incarcerated at six times the rate of whites; and, among countless other barometers, five times as many whites are using drugs than blacks, while blacks are sent to prison at 10 times the rate of whites for drug-related offenses.
It is not a paranoia afflicting black and Latino-Americans — it is a real understanding of what life is like in their America.
Which segues to the next statement that resonated with me, from a friend, Patrick, who is black and from rural Kentucky. In a text he said, “Nice article by the way, Noah’s Ark. Now write something about my people being killed by cops.”
“My people,” he said. I wanted to be able to say back to him: “what happened was to all of our people.” But I can’t. It would be unfair of me to say that, and it is foolish of me to think that.
White Americans love to think they — we — live in the same world as do black Americans and Latino-Americans, but we don’t. We white Americans live in a world that we’ve created: one that sets and enforces the rules, and is happy to admire the facade protecting us from the horrors of what happens in others’ world.
As the young, hopeful senator speaking at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama touched the optimistic American chord in all of us when he said, “There is not a black America and a white America, and Latino America, an Asian America, there is a United States of America.” He knew, especially as a black politician, that for him to be influential, or to consider contending for higher office, he must appeal to the hopes of white America — that we are a united country. But, as a black man, he also knew that there are two Americas, or at least, an America with two sets of rules — one for whites and one for blacks and Latinos.
There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the differences between us. In fact, it is wrong to ignore that there are differences between us. And just because there are differences among us, it doesn’t mean we have to live in an America where we are treated differently. I want to live in a United States of America, where my people are black and Latino and Asian, and gay and lesbian and straight and bi and transgender, and definitely where they are Muslim. I want everyone to be my people — just people. I believe that’s what most of my America, white America, wants. But white America must accept that the America it created has two sets of rules. Until white Americans — my people — realize that black and Latino-Americans are being mistreated because of our mistakes, we will never be a safe America, a good America or a united America.