On Black Lives Matter, the protests, and why it’s time for me to listen up

To put it plainly, the past week or so has been insane. On top of the pandemic, a revolution has started in many major American cities, including Philadelphia (where I live in the suburbs). I support the fight against police brutality, but seeing the violence and chaos on the news has sent my mental health on a tailspin.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of posts about the dangers of reading the news too much for those of us who already struggle with mental health issues. When the pandemic first started, I wrote a post in early March about this.

Now we’re into June and, as the months go by, the insanity of the constant news cycle and the events that are transpiring continue to be an issue for me. I graduated with a Journalism degree and I support journalists and the work they do. I do not think reporters are the problem.

What may be the problem is that, thanks to the internet and social media, we’re so connected in so many ways, and we can access information so quickly, that it has become a complete overload.

I already struggle with addiction and compulsive habits, and I’m struggling mightily with a compulsion to check the news. I want to stay informed and know what’s going on. I worked as a reporter and I’m interested in politics. But there have been many times where I’ve had to stop myself.

The protests over George Floyd’s killing are important, and I support the cause of Black Lives Matter and equality. What has been getting to me, though, is that I am jumping to worst-case scenarios.

Earlier this week, the protests in Philadelphia turned violent, and there was looting, clashes with police, and general chaos. Rachel left the city and we stayed at my mom’s for a few days. In the meantime, I obsessed about what was going on. Ominous news headlines suggested the president may deploy the military on American soil. Other headlines screamed about anger and rage erupting in American cities. The flames spread, and then it seemed some were eager to pour gasoline on top.

I know enough about American history to know that something like this was bound to happen. Racial injustice is a sad fact in America, even though many deny it. Whether subtle or not, minorities don’t get the same opportunities as whites.

On top of years of simmering rage and resentment, a pandemic has decimated the economy, left many people isolated and frustrated, and a president has made incendiary remarks on an almost daily basis.

Looking at my white privilege

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post asking if peace and healing were possible during the pandemic. I’ve become mostly convinced they are not. Peace and healing will come eventually, but only after the fighting is over. We’ve reached a turning point in American history, and the battle lines have been drawn. Many people don’t like politics and try to stay away from them (me included). But it’s hard to be neutral right now.

From where I am, I can also see my own white privilege in watching the protests unfold over the past week or so. My initial reaction has mostly been anger and confusion. Why burn down the cities? Why confront police? Why all the violence and anger?

It’s easy for me to ask these questions and act like I don’t understand because, really, I don’t. As a white male, I’m part of the dominant class in Western society. I’ve rarely, if ever, been discriminated against. Any interactions I’ve had with police have usually been cordial.

This is not the case for others not like me. Recently, I purchased a book called Me and White Supremacy, which is a kind of re-education about the ways in which someone like me holds unconscious bias against people of color. Initially, I feel even threatened by the premise nd title of the book. But I believe reading it and books like it is important, even if others think the politics behind it are radical. It will be uncomfortable, and I will likely become defensive, but I feel it must be done.

Changing my perception & attitude

For decades, perhaps even longer than that, people of color and many others have said there needs to be conversations about racial injustice, police brutality, and bias in American society. Often times, we’ve swept it under the rug, doing a few symbolic things here and there like celebrating Black History Month, and hoping the problem will go away.

Well, it won’t go away.

These protests are showing us there are deep wounds in American society – and we should listen to them. When the #MeToo movement happened, I felt a similar way. Women expressed a deep hurt and outrage about how they’d been treated and, the best I felt I could do, was listen and admit where I was wrong (because I was wrong in those instances, too).

As the Black Lives Matter protests continue, I should listen this time and admit where I’ve been wrong, as well. It’s time I examine my internalized racist beliefs and my unconscious biases. The world is changing quickly, and hopefully we can work toward a society that is more equal. But it won’t be pretty.

There will be a conservative backlash to this, as there always is, and there will be more arguing and tension. That is the nature of politics, change, and mass movements. Writing these words, forming these thoughts, helps me to stay out of the worst-case-scenarios and look to the future with hope.

While I may not join a protest, I will try to do my part to be an agent of change, even if that only means changing my perception and attitude.

(Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash)

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