As a mother who lives in Baltimore during this heated and devastating time for our city, I find myself in a middle place. The story of a young black man being beaten to his death by police is an old one, but we remain ever so divided on it’s implications. And it has never been so clear then when taking a scroll through my Facebook feed or posting a photo or sentiment in support of our African American community.
Any time events like these unfold across the country, my social media erupts into two sides and I realize how, as a Caucasian middle-class woman, I am wedged between people who want change and people who still lack so much compassion for a human experience unlike their own. And while my heart is warmed by so many of the loving gestures, the good will of those who have volunteered or marched for peace, I have also, never been so disappointed. Upon asking for messages of love for my city, first were some comments of love and hopes and prayers for justice. And then, as expected, came the callous and uncaring remarks about another dead black man.
Some comments were to the tune of “who cares? Baltimore’s favorite heroin dealer is dead? Big deal!”, others pointed to just how much black on black crime takes place in our city, saying “who is killing the majority of black people anyway?” One young mother expressed utter confusion when I shared a powerful image of an African American woman holding a sign that read “Stop Killing Black People” asking me why shouldn’t the sign say “Stop Killing All People”? Well, because police officers are killing black people (apparently she has not been watching much of the news, now or well, ever).
What is sad but true is that many of my acquaintances don’t realize how deeply racially charged their statements are. Even friends from Baltimore, who live just a block or two from the riots, the fires, the National Guard tromping through the streets, don’t seem to understand. If you don’t care about the life of a black man, if it means nothing to you because he is black, if you can shrug your shoulders and tell the world via Facebook “he got what he deserved” with no understanding of the life he has lead, no empathy, no concern for the way he left the world- that is racism at it’s core.
Most of my peers, people I went to high school with, family and friends are middle-class Americans who don’t know the depths of the inner-city. They might drive through it or catch glimpses of it on the way to a baseball game and wear the badge of being from Baltimore like we’ve seen a thing or two. But the truth is, we are blissfully removed from what it is like to grow up in inner-city Baltimore. It has been far too easy for us to turn the other cheek, to hear racism and not speak out, to simply be polite.
Social media is so imbedded in our culture and we cannot just ignore racism in this forum and pretend it doesn’t matter. While it is true that arguing with every person who makes these remarks probably won’t do that much good, I think there is something to be said for speaking out and telling the world “no, I do not accept this. This is not okay. You are missing the point.” And as a mother, a woman, a citizen of Baltimore, I don’t accept racism in the year 2015 on the internet or anywhere. Social media is the way of our times. You can’t be racist on the internet and not racist in real life. If you’re racist on Facebook, guess what? You’re racist.
There may be a time when I, too, may have turned the other cheek. But when such a lack of understanding, of caring, of human decency, even blatant racism is put out into the world for me to see, I can’t ignore it. When I see racist comments, I am speaking out. I am hitting unfriend. I am taking a stand because it is my responsibility and yours and to say “no more.” This issue needs all of us, from every single community to do better, to understand, to show our children a world where we stand up to racism.
What saddens me the most is when parents on social media are the ones making these uncaring comments. How can any parent not understand the anger of losing a child at the hands of officers who have sworn to protect? Freddie Gray was 25 years old. He was no doubt troubled, but he didn’t deserve to die. He was someone’s brother, child, friend. He was a human being but some of my friends, distant family, acquaintances, refuse to see him as such. And that fog, that cloud, that confusion and lack of concern for a life is because of his race.
There are people who truly want justice and then there is the other half who somehow find a way to not care that another young man is dead because of the color of his skin. So when we see racism out in the world, which social media is undoubtedly a part of, do we scroll past it, the online equivalent of looking the other way? Or do we speak out? I, for one, am done tolerating racism on social media or anywhere else. I am speaking out and I am hitting unfriend. I hope others will do the same. #unfriendracism