St. Louis | September 2017
I was angry and saddened and unsurprised when the judge’s verdict came down that let a white cop off of murder charges for killing a Black man, even though he said “I’m gonna kill that m — f — er” and then did. Activists in our city have had kept up protests for what, two weeks now, and plan to keep them going. I haven’t gone to a protest, though I did support my husband’s going to one. I keep thinking one day there will be one where I won’t have to worry about getting the kids from school or being there for them and then I can go. Also, confession: nothing makes me feel sillier than chanting things, even statements I believe firmly, like “Black Lives Matter.”
But I don’t have to go to protests to see the pictures from the media and hear the stories about the police’s indiscriminate brutal treatment of not just protestors who may or may not have caused property damage, but also regular folks on the street, the media themselves, and even grandmas trying to defend their grandchildren.
So yeah, there’s two things (at least) going on here:
People are protesting (in large part peacefully) because yet another white cop has killed a Black man without facing just consequences. I’m not going to relitigate the case but I will note that the judge’s use of racist codewords like “urban” makes me seriously question his ability to see Black people as anything more that stereotypes. That’s one thing. And then, once the police have the slightest justification (and sometimes without it, it seems), they treat the protesters — and anyone around them by chance — with…what appears to be malice — with pepper spray, and too-tight handcuffs, curses, and boots on heads, pushing them into the ground. And then by some accounts they (this they might be another civic entity like the courthouse?) then refuse them their constitutional rights to have access to a lawyer.
I am so angry about this. I’m angry at the leadership of this city, which seems to tacitly condone such action by their refusal to institute real consequences for such actions. I’m angry at the police who seem to choose escalation and aggression over de-escalation and peace. Our interim police chief, after 80 arrests following some property destruction said, “The police owned tonight.” That’s not their job, to own the night. This isn’t Halo. And I’m angry with the people who don’t care, or view the protesters as angry thugs. And I’m angry at myself, because sitting around angry at home doesn’t help anyone.
The day after I wrote the previous paragraphs, I went to my chiropractor. She does amazing work, and I usually walk away from visits with her feeling 1000 times better in my body. She knows I have biological mixed-race children because I’ve brought them on visits before. I didn’t exactly expect the conversation to go from bats in her bathroom to the protests. But she asked if we’d been affected by them, and so I was all, “No, but my husband went to the one on the first day. I was proud but so nervous all day.” I was worried about the police reaction to protesters but also couldn’t stop thinking about Heather Heyer, and how much damage one angry person with a car could do.
As it turned out, my chiropractor lives very near the judge in the Stockley case. She talked about how hard it was for him, how his family had been gone for three weeks, how they have three police cars on their street at all times. I was not expecting this, particularly as she had her hands on my body in a healing way, to have to suddenly defend my husband’s (and, you know, all the brown people’s) right to equal treatment under the law.
I’m still kinda trying to grapple with it, that she was taking pain away from my body, my body that is, by God’s decree, one flesh with a Black man, that has nurtured Black life within me, and at the same time using law and order arguments to deny the value of Black and brown life.
I can’t remember exactly how she said it, something like “Darren Wilson was such a nice man, and his life got turned upside down.”
All I could say was, “But Michael Brown is dead.”
I don’t even remember the flow of the conversation — this is why I will never be a memoirist. But I know I shared our experience with the police last December, when Roy, who was trying to break up/diffuse a potential fight, was on the street with two other Black people when the police where called. And even though all he had done was try to make sure the other Black man didn’t hurt the loud and drunk woman, he was treated like a threat. Put your hands up and sit on the curb. Roy says of course they did that. But the other man didn’t hear the hands up command as quickly, and the officer pulled his gun out of his holster because he failed to respond. That’s when I rushed out of the house like a rocket and yelled, “what are you doing?” Anyway, ultimately the police were very patient with the drunk woman who was super antagonistic and so very loud. But I don’t know when I’ll stop being shaken by — it seemed to me — how quickly the officer drew his gun. Anyway, I told her about that. And yeah, I mentioned that Michael Brown was dead. “That’s true,” she said.
I talked about racist fear of Black people, and white flight, and how white people abandoned the homes they owned in the city. She said they owned a house in the city they couldn’t sell because it was next to a known drug house. I didn’t get into the police’s role in enforcing Jim Crow laws, but I’ve got an appointment next month, so there’s still time.
I don’t like conflict, and often when I have to oppose people’s viewpoints, or even just vocalize some of my deeply held beliefs, my heart pounds and I get shaky. I’m never far from tears. This time my voice was steady. I didn’t get angry. I managed to articulate a small part of what it is like to love a Black person and live in America.
I’m sure if she had a Black client she would treat them personally with dignity, kindness, and respect. I’m 98% sure she’s a conservative Christian, but the person before me was a very loud gay man, and she treated him with kindness and listened to his and his partner’s (frankly, a little bit racist) joke about supporting foster care. [I know, right, the light’s coming on.]
And sure, maybe I’m a problem for continuing to see her? I don’t know. I do know that the work she does on my body make me better able to serve and love my Black family. If you can suggest a Black chiropractor 20 minutes or less from Dutchtown who will charge $50 or less per visit, let me know. I kinda want to see what happens at my next visit, first.
I didn’t exactly do this thing on purpose…well, that’s not true. As we have made decisions about where we live, worship, and send our kids to school, I have tried to be in the spaces that value the lives of my children and husband just the same as they value mine. I choose Black doctors, we go to majority-minority schools, live in mostly Black neighborhoods, attend a multiethnic church (most of y’all know my husband is an associate pastor there). And in my online life, I try to listen to Black and brown voices that correct and retrain me from the Lost Cause parts of my southern childhood. And so yes, I got myself in a bubble. I stopped listening to the voices that value white life, white comfort over Black lives, and even though I knew they were out there, I forgot how many and how close I really am to them. I lived in a world where my husband’s live, my children’s life, are given dignity, value, and care. It’s glorious, y’all. But all I have to do is walk around in the world without my family with me (a lot easier now that all my children are in school) and the mask of whiteness covers me, and the bubble pops.
I know we white people are supposed to get out of our bubbles and engage. And I did (and I made a cake, so I’m not asking for cookies). But now I have to figure out how to process the feelings of betrayal, that someone can heal my white body (y’all, she is magical), but not care the implications and effects of current events on the Black lives my body has nurtured. That someone can love me, but not see how police brutality threatens the lives of everyone in my family, no matter how good they are. (Obviously these are white lady problems — I at least get the virtue of whiteness when people look at me, a privilege my daughters, their aunties, their grandma, and all the other Black women who love us don’t have.) I know that even publishing this post might pop more bubbles. And I guess I’ll just have to make more cake.
My bubble is so safe, so nurturing, but bubbles pop, and babies don’t stay in wombs forever. I forget if George Whitfield was awesome or awful on Black people’s humanity — of course I grew up loving him. But this quote from him passed through my Twitter timeline today: “Lord, open thou my mouth, that I may henceforward speak more boldly and explicitly, as I ought to speak!” It terrifies me, but I’m trying: Black people are made in the image of God and their lives matter more than your or my white comfort.