You would think I have more sense than to write about race, “privileged” white woman that I am, but it’s Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday, and the movie about him, Selma, just got snubbed by the (mostly old, white, male) Oscar nominating committee in all the actor categories as well as the Best Director category, although it was nominated for Best Picture. (I guess it directed itself.) I live in Virginia, one of the first colonies to bring Africans to the new world and enslave them out of greed, callousness, and an utter disregard for human life and dignity, and tomorrow, workers for the Commonwealth will be given a paid holiday to honor Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Southern heroes of the “War of Northern Aggression” (I’m being facetious here, but they actually still call it that in Savannah, Georgia) because the former capital of the Confederacy just can’t get its racist head out of its bigoted ass.
And lately, the recent murders (not being facetious here) of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men taken down by white police officers for various illegalities concerning tobacco products, have me doing a lot of soul-searching about race relations in America; who with a heart and a mind hasn’t been? It’s bullshit. America was supposed to be better than this by now. I can clearly recall the elation I felt when Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential election. My sister called me just as the world was learning what the Commonwealth of Virginia had done — we had voted blue, we had voted for Barack Obama, and for the first time in my voting life, the candidate for whom I had cast a ballot had actually won the Old Dominion. Sis and I wept joyful tears together. Finally, we said, maybe, our country and our Commonwealth were shedding the manacles of racism that have bruised every moment of American history — happy thoughts; the audacity of hope.
But if the past six years have shown me anything, they have shown that racism is alive and well and as insidious as ever. The 113th Congress did everything in its power to thwart the success of a POTUS of color right up to shutting down the country, an economically disastrous gambit that hurt everyone everywhere except for members of the House of Representatives. On a state level, voting rights have been attacked in the name of preventing voter fraud, which zero studies can show is a problem. Voting districts are being redrawn in shapes that resemble the Jim Crow era, and even the Supreme Court refused to uphold the Voting Rights Act. On a local level, too many of our police forces – now nearly as well equipped as our armed forces – act as though they have redefined their role in the community from “protect and serve” to “shoot first, ask later,” as poor Tamir Rice’s family learned the hard way. At the very least we could hope for justice – some semblance that the lives of all citizens matter to law enforcement, but when the use of a banned chokehold still won’t get a police officer charged with a wrongful death, it’s hard to stay naive.
Mostly, I feel hopeless though. I know we need to get past this racist bullshit in America, but I don’t know how. It doesn’t feel proactive to simply wait for all the old white bigots to die and hope the next generation won’t hold the same biases and fears. It’s important to me because if we can solve our problems with race, then maybe we can move onto solving other issues, like gender equality. Dare I say, perhaps we could even elect a female POTUS. It seems like a logical next step, and anyway, all the cool countries are getting female leaders. Why can’t we have one too?