Dear black Americans,
I’m a white, Jewish man from Pittsburgh who, over the last year, has watched videos of Eric Garner being murdered, read about Tamir Rice being murdered, and shuddered over Ferguson after Mike Brown was murdered. On television and online, I’ve been confronted with disturbing images of black bodies being destroyed. And I’m telling you, I can’t bear it any longer. I can’t bear to learn any more details about Sandra Bland. I’m sick to my stomach, losing sleep, feeling unsteady. Yet you keep showing me images, telling me stories. And I have to look away.
It’s too much.
Which is to say: good. Don’t let up, not for a second. Make me and all of white America feel uncomfortable until police stop murdering innocent women, men and children. Make us feel perpetually uneasy until our criminal justice system – “the New Jim Crow” – no longer exists as an institutional tool to disenfranchise black citizens. Get in our faces and make us unable to ignore you until the United States is no longer as dangerous for black Americans as war-torn countries like Myanmar.
Confront us in our social media feeds, disrupt our travels, interrupt our lives.
Of course, none of you need my invitation. And some, perhaps the activists among you, probably resent my offering one. But let me explain why I am: because if someone like me – a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement – has suddenly hit an emotional breaking point, has become overwhelmed by what I’m seeing on the news, has whispered, I’m done, it means a tipping point exists somewhere over the horizon.
See, if someone like me is starting to look away, it means a saturation point is being reached – a point needed to be reached if the majority of white Americans are to internalize and understand what black Americans have been experiencing for, well, forever.
The majority of white people in this country are not racists in that they don’t actively hate. However, the majority of white people are also astoundingly ignorant, so much so that they might come off as bigoted when confronted about black lives mattering. (This includes those who reply, All lives matter.) But initial reactions change over time when more information is internalized, when more uncomfortable truths are revealed, when more unsettling images are seen.
And as reactions change, so too do voting patterns and priorities. I admit that mine have. Because, honestly, before the advent of Twitter and smart phone cameras, livestreams and liveblogs, I was mostly in the dark. I had no idea. I was just like most white Americans: a blithering idiot when it came to what black people experience in America.
In all likelihood, I still am to a degree.
But I’m learning, and changing. I’m now somebody who demands that Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and any politician who wants my vote, clarify how they intend to make sure black lives matter from a policy perspective. I didn’t used to be this way, but I am now. (The same progression has occurred for me with regard to Palestinian lives, but that’s another story.)
Ta-Nehisi Coates writes that, in America, “it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage.”
I can’t deny that it has not been my heritage, as a white American. It has. But I cannot bear the thought of that heritage being passed on to my children, to their generation. This is the fear I have for my children – that those among them will continue to oppress and hate. The fear you have for your children?
Whether or not they will live.
And it’s that fear which makes me cheer Bree Newsome and celebrate Patrice Cullors. It’s what compels me say, please, make all of us uncomfortable, confront us and challenge us.
Until such fears no longer exist.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.