I’ve been reading quite a bit about Baltimore, for a multitude of reasons. David Palumbo-liu, of Salon, captures well one of my frustrations:
Too common as well are the liberal narratives that on the one hand deplore the killings and yet firmly and sanctimoniously insist that violence is never justified. The condemnation of the violence came from the mouth of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and was quickly picked up by the president, who echoed the language used and the judgment proffered.
What does that smug, sanctimonious attitude accomplish? Another Salon post, this one by Julia Blount, sheds light on how counterproductive this thinking is:
Every comment or post I have read today voicing some version of disdain for the people of Baltimore — “I can’t understand” or “They’re destroying their own community” or “Destruction of Property!” or “Thugs” — tells me that many of you are not listening. I am not asking you to condone or agree with violence. I just need you to listen.
If you find yourself in the “violence is never justified” club, let me suggest a different perspective for you.
One of the amazing personal stories I’ve read in recent years is that of Miko Peled. Peled is an Israeli and the son of a Matti Peled, a general in the 1967 war. In 1997, tragedy hit the Peled family when Miko’s niece was killed by a suicide bomber.
Peled could have lashed out, but he chose a different path. He sought to gain an understanding of what would cause a young person to end his life that way. So he began reaching out to Palestinians. He has since become one of the leading speakers on the plight of Palestinians. If you’re interested, here’s Youtube link.
Yes, Peled is extraordinary. But if Peled can do what he did, put his grief aside and try to understand what caused a Palestinian to kill his niece, surely any White American can put his or her sanctimony aside and try to understand what brought things to a boiling point in Baltimore (and, before Baltimore, Ferguson). In other words, instead of condemning the rioters, I’m suggesting, try to understand what drove the rioters to riot (and what will fuel future riots if no changes are made).
Here’s a starting point, also from Julia Blount at Salon:
You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to, but instead of forming an opinion or drawing a conclusion, please let me tell you what I hear:
I hear hopelessness
I hear oppression
I hear pain
I hear internalized oppression
I hear despair
I hear anger
I hear poverty
If you are not listening, not exposing yourself to unfamiliar perspectives, not watching videos, not engaging in conversation, then you are perpetuating white privilege and white supremacy. It is exactly your ability to not hear, to ignore the situation, that is a mark of your privilege.
But don’t stop here. Reach out to your Black friends. If you don’t have any Black friends, make them. But if they’re affluent Blacks, and they validate your sanctimony, discount what they say. Dig deeper. Read Black journalists out of the mainstream. Read Michelle Alexander. Read Chris Hedges.
Or, if you’re not up to that challenge, at least spare the rest of us your sanctimony, okay?