That line is from a Death Cab for Cutie Song.
2014 was not the best of years for a number of reasons; but one of those reasons may actually have some silver lining. The increased attention on #blacklivesmatter and the necessary scrutiny the public (however we define that public) on police officers and the excessive use of force against people of color — that, perhaps, is the best we can hope for from the piss poor conditions out of which recent protests have erupted. I had attended a few of the protests in December of last year, waving a sign with the death toll (some 45 humans laid waste) at the hands of overzealous police. The assailants, the people whose guns took those lives, were never arrested or charged. Their villainy gets a pass for all the reasons that structural racism allows, and for all the reasons that police officers never get indicted for obvious murders in the ‘line of duty.’
2014 was no banner year for the US, other than its economic growth, its lowering gas prices, its relative peace in the eyes of white moderates. These conditions placate masses, keep otherwise good people inured in what Judith Butler, Patricia Collins, and many others have called in its theoretical terms, not just its biological terms, ‘whiteness.’ This reproduction of privilege that allows us (people like me, cis white men, however queer) to pass through each day without fear of being considered less than what is the human norm.
I realize as the first entry of the year, this is no merry tune. But I’m sick of reading silver linings that edge pools of blood. I’m also sick of counternarratives (like #alllivematter) that seek to silence the pain of entire sets of racial minorities, in plain sight, in conceit. I live in a city where its police force can turn their backs on the mayor during a funeral (NYC) and still expect a modicum of respect from the civilians they volunteer to protect. I live in a city where black and brown skin is the indicator of success or violent death (like so many other cities in the US, but here I feel a certain straightforwardness, and in-your-faceness that is inescapable).
Then there is the shootings in Paris, the tragic loss of life stemming from satire. Satire that, for many, is viewed as racist, poorly done, or, in some more comical commentary, misunderstood. Never mind the magazine’s use of racial tropes and caricatured bodily morphology — that, it seems, was a part of the joke. Our attention — rather the West’s, the ‘civilized’ part of the world’s — was focused on wresting an apology from the ‘Muslim world’ from whose belly these attackers were born. And that disgusts me. For one: Any loss of life is tragic. Yet, secondly, those who commit such crimes, from whatever background, do not incriminate the race, creed, religion, color, or ethnicity with which they identify. No one should be demanded to apologize but the assailants themselves. These men who attacked Charlie Hebdo’s writers and editors were cruel, dehumanizing, awful. But we must be able to confine those epithets to their appropriate subjects. I, for one, will not condemn a generalized Other. And I won’t simply allow the banner of satire to wave above a racial trope, a gendered epistemic violence, in order to blanket its privileged genealogy — and the privileged readers to ingest its messages.
I hope 2015 is a year of more than reflection. I hope this reflection takes on a spirited edge of change, a call for more join a struggle that persists in nearly every corner on the US as it has for centuries. But also one that seeks to understand the Other, the foreigner, the Muslim, the African, the brunt of all our whiteness’ inability to see, really see, their humanity — to understand the Other as human.
Praying for Peace,