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On Humanity, Race, and Desperation

By Ester Alegria in News on Aug 24, 2014 6:00PM

A month ago, if someone would have told me that desperate times call for desperate measures, I wouldn’t have put much thought into that statement. It would have slipped through my mind just like any other common saying. Today, however, ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’ resonates so deeply within me; so much that I am thoroughly unable to think of any circumstance in which I’d react differently than the protesters and looters in Ferguson, Missouri.

I am a non-violent woman. I chose not to spank my child, even though I was spanked. When I was assaulted by someone very close to me, I simply took the beating, not wanting to hurt someone who cared for me as though she were my mother. Someone I loved.

But my extreme pacifism is waning. Seeing the world and the people around me react so viscerally to something so trivial as skin color, or economic status, as many debaters claim, has chipped away at the softness I feel for my fellow humans. I am enraged. But, because I am a black woman, living on Chicago’s South Side, I am not allowed to show my anger. Because—let's be honest—Chicago can easily become Ferguson.

If I want to avoid being viewed as the stereotypical ‘angry black woman,’ I am to keep silent. If I want to live to see my daughter thrive as an adult, I am never to question the police if accosted. If I want to thrive as a stable adult, I am to keep my ‘controversial’ opinions to myself, and not yell too loudly if I am wronged.

I don't expect everyone to fully understand how it feels to be a person of color in America—just as I'll never understand how it feels to go through the kind of discrimination that perhaps a Jewish person would endure. I am not Jewish, therefore I can neither give reason to, nor take away from their struggles. I do not want these feelings of rage to continue. I want to choose love.

In this country, I am seen as a guest. After being told countless times to, "Just go back to Africa," because I am unhappy with cultural imbalances in the U.S., I am reminded that my existence here is not valid. My title on forms and applications are hyphenated as African-American—not just a pure American.

My boyfriend, though born in Russia, is not called ‘European-American.’ Long ago, a solid place had been carved out for him in this country. He is welcomed here—though as a pair, when we walk around in public, holding hands, or showing affection, we are not acceptable.

As an inside joke, and a general way to laugh away the discomfort we feel when strangers sneer, or make unkind remarks, we sing the lyrics to Avey Tare’s “Little Fang.” And I do believe that we are something special, as the song suggests. I believe that we should be free to warm each other with hugs on the ever-freezing Red Line. I believe that we both belong.

The death of Mike Brown has ignited cinders underneath comfortable sitting spaces and caused a ‘racial divide in America.’ Donations for officer Darren Wilson's defense and personal wants outweigh donations for Brown's legal and burial needs, exceeding $225,000 on Friday.

GoFundMe recently removed incendiary comments from it's donor page,

The problem is this racial divide isn’t so new. I can quote Martin Luther King here, or recall the civil rights movement of the 1960s; but peaceful protest has proven null and void recently.

I would not encourage looting stores and damaging communities, but I understand why it happens. When systematically pushed into a corner, human beings have the tendency to either kneel in submission—according to the rules of natural selection, or to fight back. We all come from a long line of fighters; those fights unfolding as bouts of kicking and screaming, or as the use of words and mental agility. We learn to survive.

One may argue that the shootings and brutality are not racial issues, and maybe each occurrence wasn't based purely on race. But racism is so much a part of American culture, that it is almost impossible to separate racism, classism, and knee-jerk reactions to people with dark skin. How can the average person with limited exposure to real, tangible black people form an opinion without referring to stereotypes?

Tearing apart one’s home is an act of desperation. Arms flail about at the predator, and teeth bare at those who might be allies; until we recognize that we are safe, free from danger. Check out this insightful piece on why the marginalized riot.

Aggressive behavior is not a characteristic of being black in America, it is a result of being black in America.

Video contains graphic imagery

Let us cease to argue whether the deceased deserved to die because they stole cheap cigars, or energy drinks, and are thugs, or martyrs. Can we just collectively look this degenerative disease in the face, take a deep breath, and address it? If we all join together, there would be no need for flailing arms or kneeling to submit. We can grasp the hands of the nearest human and form an impenetrable force field of acceptance, understanding, and humanity.

My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” -Desmond Tutu

Video contains graphic imagery