I did the bare minimum, sharing a #blacklivesmatter message with some books about the racism issue, and someone DMed to suggest another book and called me a woke white person. I don’t consider myself woke.
In fact, I catch myself having racist thoughts all the time, and that’s only human.
Racism exists in our minds as a survival tactic. When we see people different than us, we become hyperaware. We see them as suspicious, and this helped us survive as a tribe in an us-versus-them mentality. That’s just how our minds are wired.
But just like our baser instincts of fighting or fucking, we live in a civilised society. Unlike our tribal gatherings, we have travelled far and wide, made trades for exotic goods and intermixed with other people. There’s really no excuse for racist behaviour other than that of you being a fucking racist.
Every day I take a walk out in the park. It’s a big park, basically a small pine tree forest, and I put on an audiobook and walk briskly uphill for about 40-50 minutes. It’s good exercise, but since the quarantine I’ve neglected doing it. Now I can go back out there again, but there are quite a few people walking their dog or jogging, and it becomes tiresome trying to maintain social distancing in the sidewalks.
So, today I decided to just wait for a little later at night, and I took my nightly walk. Try imagining that as a woman. Being unafraid and walking outside later at night so there will be less people outside. I listened to False Value by Ben Aaronovitch, which happens to have a black police officer/wizard as a main character.
Now, I live in a mid to rich area, so it’s rather safe. And I’m a man, and I’m white. So I have no reason to be scared of walking outside just taking a stroll.
But I’m a writer, and writers are masochists, so I tried putting myself into George’s shoes. You know which George I’m talking about. George Floyd, a person from the other side of the world, a person who I’d never meet and probably wouldn’t have anything in common with, but who I have no reason to harbour ill feelings towards.
And I walked like a black guy.
Four cops went by on their two bikes. Now, these aren’t sissy British cops, these are ΔΙΑΣ, ZEUS police units that are fully armed and trained for quick response times. Naturally, they just did their usual patrol and went past me without a second glance. But I tried to imagine what it’d be like to be terrified of them. What it’d be like if they thought I was suspicious just because of the colour of my skin. I pulled my hands from my pockets to make them visible and to show I’m unarmed. I hunched my shoulders to look less intimidating.
I tried to imagine them screeching to a halt infront of me, pulling their guns (police don’t do that in Europe with no provocation because we’re not fucking animals) and arresting me for suspicious behaviour.
Then, while I was compliant, them pushing me down on the ground for 9 whole minutes till I suffocated.
Of course, they didn’t do that. I’m white and there was no reason for me to be afraid, they are out there to protect, well, me, a law-abiding citizen. These police officers know about positional asphyxiation, which is when you place a person face down and tie their hands behind their backs, it becomes harder to breathe (and apparently eventually die.) They get trained for that, and they know that. Even I know that, because I’m a writer and I know these things. But somehow, somewhere, there were 4 officers with guns and the power to arrest and shoot people who didn’t know about that.
Try pushing down on the ground for nine whole minutes. Try it. Nine minutes is a long time. Your knee will ache in half that time. Nine whole minutes.
I have no idea what it’s like to feel afraid like that. I can’t even come close to what it must be like. Another police car went by after a while, so I imagined other scenarios, but the audiobook reached a climax and I got distracted.
So, no. I’m not woke. But I’m not an animal. I’m so sorry, George. Black lives matter.