I came across a concept recently called “breakthrough knowledge” and I think this has happened to me and changed how I see the world. I’ve always believed in social justice, civil rights and gender equality. However, I assumed lived experiences were anecdotal and not a pattern of injustice. Habits and unacknowledged prejudices might come into play, but individuals were ultimately (and routinely) protected by our laws and law enforcement. You might encounter prejudice, but that would always be the exception and not the rule.
Since moving back to the Pacific Northwest in December 1999, I’ve been exposed to credible instances of systemic injustice experienced by coworkers and their families, by my family members dealing with mental health issues, by dealing with my own health issues, by reporting from sources that I trust (such as Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow) and by seeking out voices in alternative communities.
The most shocking moments have included rhetoric against gun control after mass shootings, acquittal of police and others involved in violence based on race and or religion, and mainstream denigration of feminism and feminists.
I know believe BLACK LIVES MATTER and the ME TOO MOVEMENT are barely breaching the surface of pervasive sexism, racism and bigotry in the United States. The breakthrough knowledge that led me here was something really small. Until that moment, I responded from an intellectual and ethical level. I now understand that many privileges work “invisibly” for me that other citizens of the US lack them and their very lives are predicated on that … on always being aware of that. That is the way they survive.
I believe it began with understanding that Trayvon Martin died for walking through his own neighborhood as a black youth wearing a hoodie because he met a self-aggrandizing racist. Then #BlackLivesMatter breached the mainstream media and I some NFL players refused to stand for the national anthem. Finally, I had a viseral and profound reaction to a single moment in: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, asha bandele, Angela Y. Davis
Patrisse Khan-Cullors describes what happens to black kids who get their driver’s license. She describes the feeling of freedom shared by all young people … and then she describes driving or being a passenger when pulled over by police. The worry and the fear. The need to remember codes of behavior. The necessity for full compliance with authority and demonstrating personal passivity just to stay alive. The average black driver never speeds, never misses a needed repair and never takes driving for granted. Driving is no longer a symbol of independence and freedom. It is, for blacks, another activity that can get then killed … for being black in a racist society. Wow.
I’ve followed the bread crumbs from these experiences into places that have changed my views on the reality of race in America. I don’t see us as a civil society with some race and equality problems. I accept that I live in a racist society with dreams and aspirations that might eventually lead to a civil society. I look forward to 2045 when I, as a white women, will be part of the racial minority. I hope to live to see it.