Every Human Life Cut Short is a Tragedy

lit candles with one big candle in the foreground

[image description: a group of lit candles with one big candle in the foreground]

This is an autism blog, but today I need to talk about other people’s struggles. I need to express solidarity.

In 1977, Disabled protesters and allies won the 504 regulations that benefit Autistic children today. The protest was a 23 day sit-in at the Health, Education, and Welfare office. That protest was made possible by support and protection from the Black Panther Party.

They stood up for us. It is time to return that love.

We cannot separate Black issues from Disability issues.

We are theirs; they are ours. Oppression of one is oppression of all. Please read my words. Please do what you can to end all oppression. If you care about your oppression as an Autistic person or the oppression your Autistic child faces, please know that we are all connected and we all need each other in our struggle to build a just society for everyone.

This post is mainly directed at my fellow white people. This is my attempt to amplify what I hear Black people saying. This is my attempt to do what Black people I love and respect have asked us to do: use our white voices to help get their message out to those who don’t listen to Black voices. Black people are strong and don’t need us to speak for them. But they do need us to listen to them and this is my attempt to encourage others to listen, too.

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I will remember this as the summer everyone’s emotional flags were at half-staff.

I had to leave Florida last month because the grief I felt over the shooting at Pulse was too heavy to bear. I was hot. It was humid. And someone had just killed nearly fifty of my people, executed them in the one place they felt most at home, most themselves, most safe.

I am watching what is going on this week and feeling I have no place to speak because I am white, and Black voices must be privileged in the shooting deaths of Sterling and Castile. I feel I have no place to speak because I have been persecuted terribly at the hands and under the pointed guns of cops, yet I recognize the shooting deaths of police officers were not just and were neither called for nor celebrated by the Black Lives Matter movement.

But I do have a place to speak about grief and the loss of human life. I have experienced much grief in my life, including but not limited to: the death of my daughter from birth trauma; the death of my brother from cancer; the death of my fiance from SUDEP; the deaths of my dear friends Margaret, Kevin, Tom, and Dave at their own hands; the deaths of former lovers Ron and Alan from cancer; the death of former lover and dear friend Dave from food poisoning.

I have experienced much grief in my community, watching the news stories roll in month after month of parents killing and attempting to kill their Autistic children, of police responding badly to Autistic adults. I have watched news of trans people being beaten and killed. I still grieve the loss of Matthew Shepard, the Gay young man killed in Wyoming almost 18 years ago, so deeply it still moves me to tears today. Only five months ago the police shot and killed Kayden Clarke, an Autistic trans man. Autistic people are my people. Trans people are my people.

I do not have the target on my back that Black people, especially Black men, live with every day. But I do know what it’s like to be a member of a disenfranchised and targeted group of people. I know what it’s like to watch as my people are killed and the only reason they were killed is because of who they are, not what they have done. I know what it’s like to grieve the loss of my people.

And I know what it’s like to feel like I am surrounded by people who don’t get it, people who say things that make the trauma even worse, people who only add to my feeling that the world hates us and wishes we were all dead.

So while I don’t feel I have a place to speak about the lived Black experience, I want to talk about grief and pain and what we all can do to comfort our fellow human beings in this time of incredible loss. We must listen to their pain and share it. We must listen to their outrage and share it.

Before you open your mouth to say anything, stop to remember that the lives that have been lost were the lives of fellow human beings. The people who were killed this week were sons, partners, fathers, brothers, friends. These deaths are like heavy stones dropped from a great height, spreading ripples farther than you could imagine. Any human life cut short is a tragedy. Give that time to soak in.

Don’t think of these killings as statistics, political statements, entertaining news stories, or anecdotes. Think of them as human lives tragically cut short and causing long-lasting pain to hundreds of people and extended pain to thousands, maybe millions of people.Let the pain and sorrow and outrage and grief touch you. It’s messy. It’s hard. Feel it.

These weren’t “other people” who were killed. They were human beings and that means they were our people. Every one of them. I am white, but Sterling and Castile were my people, too. They were human beings; they are ours.

Do not share pictures of bloody, broken human beings. It is disrespectful to their families to have to see those images everywhere they go. It is disrespectful to these human lives to only show the world their lowest moment. Share pictures of them alive and smiling. Share pictures of their with friends and family, in relationship and surrounded by love. Share pictures of them receiving awards and recognition of accomplishments.

Tell the world about the outrage and the tragedy. People will go look for the videos. I did. So will others. You don’t need to share the images of death to encourage people to care. People who care will seek out those videos and images as they are ready to process that information.

Instead, tell the world about Alton Sterling, the struggling father of four who had a hardscrabble life of poverty but still gave away CDs, food, and drink to others out of the kindness of his big heart.

Tell the world about Philando Castile, the gentle, beloved cafeteria worker who made sure all the kids got enough to eat, sneaked them extra graham crackers, and gave a loving, accepting hug to an Autistic student every day.

Do  not say “All Lives Matter.” Of course all lives matter.  But when you use those words to say it, you are not expressing solidarity with all humanity. You are specifically erasing the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matter movement is reminding us that Black lives matter TOO. They are not claiming Black lives are the only lives that matter. They are spotlighting the injustice and systemic racism that Black people face every single moment of every single day. They are holding a mirror up to a society that says all lives matter but does not really act like it.

I have never had to experience life with such a visible difference that others react to with fear, mistrust, hatred, and violence. I have been subjected to injustices as an impoverished Autistic with a very female appearance, but I realize that is nothing compared to the injustices Black people experience. I can draw on my own experiences when feeling compassion toward Black people, but I can never understand–no matter how hard I try–what it is like to live Black. 

Black people began their journey on this soil as captured slaves. Black people in the U.S. have only been free 150 years. Studies have proved that employers presented with two identical resumes other than a Black-sounding name on one and a white-sounding name on the other will overwhelmingly choose the white-sounding named person, despite no other differences in education, accomplishments, and experience.

Black people still struggle to escape the shadow of the slavery that brought them to these shores against their will and kept them imprisoned and suffering for 245 years. Six generations of freedom has not put Blacks on equal footing with whites. We do not live in a “post-racial” society. We have not “solved” everything by electing a Black president. There is still so much work to do and it is time for us white folks to step up and do our share, too.

I am typing this in a McDonald’s and behind me the television has been broadcasting nothing but news for the last three hours. I heard the unmistakable sounds of Diamond Johnson’s Facebook livefeed video and was sickened to see two young white men in this restaurant watching the television with smug smirks on their faces. We white people need to work for equality, not stand aside and smirk.

Do not talk about a “race war” or call the Dallas protest “anti-police.” Phrases like “race war” are instigating, escalating language that makes things worse, not better. The Black Lives Matter movement is calling for police reform. The Dallas gathering was peaceful. The sniper who killed five police officers and wounded seven others was not part of the Black Lives Matter movement and even went so far as to say he was against it.

This is not a race war. Grieving, frightened people are calling for an end to police brutality. Do not believe you are safe because your skin is white. White people are being subjected to police brutality, too. The Black Lives Matter movement is the canary in the coal mine — that is to say, police brutality is enacted on all of us, but watch the reactions. When the victim is white, the overwhelming social attitude is horror. When the victim is Black, the overwhelming social attitude is to ask what he did to bring it on himself.

When the victim of police brutality is white, no one asks their survivors to justify their existence. When the victim is black, the first thing the media does is run a background check.

I watched Castile’s family repeatedly saying, “he was not a thug. He was not a criminal.” No, he wasn’t. But why does that matter? The man was executed point-blank for a broken tail light. Whatever he did before that moment has no bearing.

It doesn’t matter that Castile was not a criminal. It matters that so many people assume a Black man is a criminal until they learn otherwise. “Presumed innocent” does not count for Black people and that’s messed up. That needs to change. We need to change that.

Don’t make things worse by calling this a race war or insisting on appropriating the phrase Black Lives Matter to make any point about white lives or “blue” lives. Accept that sometimes grief and outrage is not about you. Accept that sometimes you just have to listen and love, not try to always twist the spotlight in your direction. Accept that police brutality is everybody’s problem but stop striving to take attention away from Black grief and Black struggles with a racist system and racist society.

Beyond that, acknowledge that the Black Lives Matter movement is fighting to make a better world for you, too. White people are not out in the streets calling for an end to police brutality even though we are subject to it as well, to a lesser degree than Black people. Support and listen to the Black Lives Matter movement because the world they are trying to build will be better for everyone. They are helping you; help them.

Yes, I know it hurts to think of yourself as racist, but I am here to tell you that if you look white, you have advantages and those advantages are paid for by racism. I recognize that I am able to live the life I live because I am white. When you are told that you have white privilege, do not pull out all the ways you are discriminated against because that is another way to erase the very real racism that Black people cope with every day.  Yes, everyone is subject to potential prejudice and oppression. But Black people have been getting the short end of the stick in this country for 400 years. Do not erase their voices when they tell you how hard that is to live with just because it is hard for you to hear it and hard for you to think about the ways you benefit from being white.

I live in poverty and oppression with sexism and ableism every day and it sucks. But I benefit hugely from being white. I am not ashamed of that because I never asked to be born white any more than I asked to be identified female at birth or any more than I asked to be born with an Autistic body and brain. When you hear that you have white privilege, do not feel ashamed and do not feel like you have to justify how you are also oppressed. Those feelings don’t help dismantle racism. Those feelings just amplify white privilege at the expense of Black voices.

Acknowledge that you have white privilege despite any other disadvantages you also have and work to dismantle the racist structures of our society and eradicate white privilege. Use your white privilege to amplify the things Black people are saying. Use that privilege to put good in the world instead of denying that your very real privilege exists.

Recognize that structural racism killed these police officers despite their whiteness. The shooter hated police and hated the Black Lives Matter movement. Every person who calls Black Lives Matter “anti-police” is contributing to the same forces of racism that killed five police officers. Over and over I have listened to representative of Black Lives Matter tell us that they are not about hate; they are about love. They are not against the police; they are against police brutality and a racist system that continually lead to the death of their family and community members. The officers who were killed were there to protect and serve the Black Lives Matter voices. They died supporting a peaceful call to end racism and police brutality. Do not allow their deaths to make the situation worse. Grieve their loss, too. There is nothing contradictory about supporting Black Lives Matter and feeling outrage at the killing of police officers in Dallas. But don’t let the rhetoric distract you from the root of everything that has happened this week. Don’t let the focus waver from Black lives and the ways they are treated. They are treated as if they don’t matter. Tell the world that’s wrong. Tell the world that Black lives DO matter.

Beyond all else, remember that this week has been a graveyard. Respect that.

Before you say anything, ask yourself: “will these words help make the world safer, more compassionate, more just? Or do these words only serve my own interests?”

Reach out to those who do not look like you. Seek unity with those who also struggle.

Remember the words of Martin Niemoller: “Then they came for me / And there was no one left / To speak out for me.”

Speak out. Amplify Black voices. They have been there for us. We must be there for them. 

Solidarity. Unity. Black Lives Matter. Stop the killing.

 

 

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by mooncatadams on July 9, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Every. word. true.

  2. […] Source: Every Human Life Cut Short is a Tragedy […]

  3. To those of you who were white people at a special ed school or mental institution where every black person the place happened to hire yelled at you or otherwise seemed especially harsher to you than the white teachers: Do not blame every Black person for the ableism that prejudicial staff members who happened to be black directed at you. You may be wary of black people as a result of that experience, but you need to work on getting over that fear, and to remember that there are many black people who still suffer prejudice. You need to count both your own problems and those of black people as valid, and to not use the harsh treatment of special ed members as an excuse to dump prejudice on black people who happen to be hurting, deeply, right now. Your problems are real, but they are not an excuse to invalidate problems caused by people who looked like those staff members.

    The same goes for white people who happen to have been bullied by a black person or had something else bad happen to them at the hands of a black person. Black people struggle enough with racism as it is. By all means, remember that your problems are real and valid, but at the same time bear in mind that black people are facing tragedy after tragedy right now.

    If any of you who are white and have had bad things happen to you at the hand of a black person have managed to not be fearful of black people or else get over your wariness of them, good. You need to stay over it, as that kind of fear can lead to being overtly racist if it hasn’t led you there already. And you need to remember to really listen and try to understand the problems facing black people right now, not simply use this as an example of how “other people have it worse, so my problems are invalid” or else “it’s not my problem” or “this kind of thing only happens to black people, so I’m safe”; the former may only prod you to invalidate those who are facing horrors right now in an attempt to recover from your own trauma, so accept that you have valid problems that should be dealt with if possible and ALSO accept that you have white privilege and that black people right now are facing a great deal of horror that they have to deal with which you don’t, and the latter two are essentially a variant of “I don’t have to do anything”.

    This statement is in no way intended to invalidate problems faced by the black community. Rather, it is a way of telling white people who have been legitimately hurt by a black person or people that that cannot and should not be used as an excuse for being racist or perpetuating racist attitudes. I said the stuff about validating one’s own problems because people in situations like that are often invalidated because “other people have it worse”; this attitude can lead people to throw those who are facing true atrocities under the bus in an attempt to convince themselves that they deserve to consider solving the problems they have. When I say “validate your own problems, too” it is sort of like saying provide for yourself so you can provide for others the way a mom is asked to put on her own oxygen mask on a plane so she can put her kid’s on, not like saying provide for yourself at the expense of others. Everyone deserves to not be bullied or abused and to not have to deal with societal problems; the problem is not that people end up with these types of problems because they deserve it, the problem is that people inflict these types of problems on them, no matter what the degree of the problem is. Furthermore, I am well aware that white people can be bullies and usually are; I am addressing those bullied or abused by black people because I believe that those are the white people most at risk for developing racist attitudes who haven’t already.

    Oh, and any white people who want to use this as an excuse to say to someone else, “It’s not that bad, look at what is happening to black people right now”, don’t. Don’t make this into another “starving children in Africa” type trope designed to derail other people’s problems. Just don’t. That attitude does not actually solve those problems and perpetuates othering of the group you are referring to.

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