Back in May, a white lady named Jenna Glatzer wrote in the Washington Post about spontaneously joining a Black Lives Matter march that was passing through.
Get off the sidewalk, I told myself. Prove you care by moving your feet.
And so I did. Awkwardly at first, because I didn’t know how to navigate the transition between spectator and activist. Who was I to join this movement? I’m a suburbanite from a predominantly white community. Police brutality is not in my realm of experience. But I know what I’m seeing in the news — a shocking series of videos and stories that have opened my eyes to a problem I would have assumed was very rare.
Solidarity doesn’t come naturally to suburbia, given that it comes from white flight and racially-biased New Deal programs. Any white person who’s just become aware that life in the United States frequently sucks for black people has something to answer for. This is Susan Sontag, in Regarding the Pain of Others:
To designate a hell is not, of course, to tell us anything about how to extract people from that hell, how to moderate hell’s flames. Still, it seems a good in itself to acknowledge, to have enlarged, one’s sense of how much suffering caused by human wickedness there is in the world we share with others. Someone who is perennially surprised that depravity exists, who continues to feel disillusioned (even incredulous) when confronted with evidence of what humans are capable of inflicting in the way of gruesome, hands-on cruelties upon other humans, has not reached moral or psychological adulthood.
No one after a certain age has the right to this kind of innocence, of superficiality, to this degree of ignorance, or amnesia.
There now exists a vast repository of images that make it harder to maintain this kind of moral defectiveness. Let the atrocious images haunt us.
It’s that same blissful disconnect from reality for some people that lets bad things happen to Other people.
But then there came the next [chant]: “How do you spell racist? NYPD! How do you spell murderer? NYPD!”
The words caught in my throat. I couldn’t say this chant. It wasn’t helpful – just taunting. Suddenly, my loyalty was divided. There’s no doubt that we have problems with racism and police overusing deadly force. When we have multiple officers choking a man to death because they suspect he’s selling loose cigarettes, that’s a problem. When police claim that a man has nearly severed his own spinal cord and crushed his own voicebox in custody, that’s a problem. When police shoot a 12-year-old within two seconds of arrival because he’s playing with a toy gun and then arrest his sister for rushing to his aid, we definitely have a problem. But do I believe that the state’s police force is full of racist murderers? No.
People like this lady (and Hillary Clinton) expect too much credit just for acknowledging undeniably obvious things, like the existence of these widely-reported deaths. There’s no believable reason not to understand that it takes the entire department’s complicity for it to be fucked up. Here’s a dramatic reenactment:
When these things happen and nobody’s in trouble, there are multiple accessories after the fact. You don’t even need to mention that police originated with slave patrols to say that the NYPD is racist. Stop-and-frisk is their thing, and they’re known to have operated an entire Department of Persecuting Muslim People. What this lady is saying is that “cops are racist murderers” is not allowed to be true, a priori. Her loyalties are clear.
I can’t even guess what percentage of cops are “good” and what percentage are “bad.” But I know we’d be a lot worse off in this country without them. I have relied on police numerous times in my life, in situations ranging from pickpocketing to rape, and in my very rare instances on the other side of the law – a couple of traffic violations – they were cordial and reasonable. It hurts to think how this issue must break the morale of the ones who uphold their oath to protect and serve. I’m a fan of the police; they risk their lives for the rest of us every day.
At the same time, I understand how different this would look from another cultural vantage point. If I’d spent most of my life being subject to baseless traffic stops, “walking while black” interrogations, or feeling like the men in blue were out to get me rather than out to help me, I might make these negative generalizations, too. But that hasn’t been my experience.
White people mean “ethnic” and “cultural” pejoratively and dismissively a lot of the time, but it’s plausibly deniable. It’s whiteness studies 101 to point out that white people assume that they represent everybody and you can generalize from them. The obvious, well-documented facts about the police don’t matter because that’s not her experience. Of course, the entire point is that cops treat white and black people differently. Everything about the arguments of Black Lives Matter predicts that that would be her experience.
“I’m sorry you feel bad” is the classic non-apology apology. Notice that, in this paragraph, the level of violence has dropped from “threat of murder” to “cops inconveniencing you by asking questions” or maybe even “you’re just making it up.” Where’s the brave acknowledgement of cops shooting 12 year old boys, when it would mean anything?
What I believe is that we need to weed out the “bad” officers and wildly appreciate the good ones. Scream loudly when they do wrong, but never forget how much they do right. The last thing we need is for the true heroes to walk away from the profession because we’ve unfairly profiled them. Negative stereotypes don’t work for any of us.
So what she’s saying is that the masculine cop heroes, who risk their lives every day to Keep Us Safe, are a bunch of pussies who’d quit their jobs because some niggers held a rally? Bitch, please. This would be insulting without drawing a false equivalence between “the data show the police are racist” and “niggers like watermelon.”
We passed a group of public safety officers — some black, some white. They were standing back, just watching the protesters.
“Everyone behaving so far?” I asked. I wanted to hear them say that we were doing this right, following the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s example of nonviolent protest. And I wanted them to know that we didn’t all hate them. As King wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I wanted our movement to be part of the light.
One of the officers smiled at me. “Everyone’s behaving.”
Why is she desperate for the fatherly approval of police officers, even using language appropriate to children? This is what else MLK said:
First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”
Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
MLK actually rolled in his grave when the lady’s article was published.
This lady’s contribution was to walk in a march until she got too cold, while not noticing anybody getting arrested, and then write an editorial in a national publication about how cops are out there every day risking their lives in neighborhoods full of dangerous niggers. The purpose of publishing it was to reassure passive racists that they’re good people and gosh are these issues complicated and we need more good niggers around here.
I have no doubt that Jenna Glatzer would insist on her noble intentions and lack of conscious hostility towards black people, all while writing what’s essentially reactionary propaganda.
It would be the most amazing thing if white women collectively stopped to think that talking to them about race is like talking to conservative men about feminism.