I am a very sensitive person. I feel everything, and I feel it deeply. Over the years I have learned to have a thicker skin when comes to my professional life, but outside of that, all bets are off. That’s why when I was 10, my Mother had to tell the librarian to stop recommending Holocaust books to me, because she kept finding me sobbing in the bathtub as I read through the school’s collection of survivor accounts. That’s why before I go to bed at night, I scan through the 10s of puppy and baby animal Instagram accounts I follow, just so that the onslaught of news that I have consumed throughout the day doesn’t keep me up at night. Sometimes I’m successful, and sometimes the images of Syrian refugee children, senseless bombings, unarmed black men, and sexual abuse victims flood my dreams so that I toss and turn until the morning. Admittedly, part of this is because I can’t help but over-consume media. Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, magazine subscriptions, I am never more than a simple click or a page turn away from more information for me to inhale. Just like the Holocaust books, I flood my brain with horrific images and tragic stories, except now there’s no one to tell me when to stop.
But how can I stop, when there are so many victims, so many names to learn and to remember? Someone recently asked me if the reason why I constantly share, write, and speak about the injustices in the world, is because I have personally felt discrimination, and do I really feel like I am making any kind of a difference? It wasn’t said as an accusation, but more of a curiosity from someone who wouldn’t necessarily do the same. It made me reflect on why some are compelled to confront inequality and injustice for those outside their own community, and others can’t be bothered. What happens in the place between the disinterested and the socially impassioned?
It’s true, I will never begin to know the life experience of a black person, never mind a black person in the United States. I can’t comprehend the prejudice First Nations people face in my home country of Canada, and I am horrified every time a frat boy rapes an unconscious woman, and walks away from it.
So while I have no desire to co-opt someone else’s struggle, if I am so damn lucky, dare I say privileged, to not know these particular hardships, what the hell is wrong with me if I can’t, at the very least, speak up in solidarity for those who do.
The mere suggestion that any of us should stop talking about racism because it makes people feel bad, that social media is not the place for political outrage, because your friends don’t like seeing dead black men in-between photos of avocado toast and gym selfies, or that #BlackLivesMatter should just let people enjoy the Toronto Pride Parade and not ruin the fun, is a cop-out.
I’ll never apologize for shaming the “non-political” for their apathy and desensitization. I’ll never stop demanding better representation of people of colour in our media, whether it’s harmful Hollywood typecasting, or the news media’s damaging framing of victims with past criminal records. All of this contributes to a culture that does not give equal value to the lives and stories of people of colour. So don’t tell me you’re just not that political, as if it is a personality trait you can be proud of.
When police officers killing black civilians in cold blood becomes an alternative option for paid time off, then it’s time to say there is something severely fucked up with our society, and the system in place. Their badge and gun are a privilege, not a right, and as civilians we have to decide if they deserve it.
No wonder people have to yell at the top of their lungs that #BlackLivesMatter, because the people meant to protect, are acting like they don’t. You want to tell me that #AllLivesMatter or that #BlueLivesMatter? Well the same state that Alton Sterling was murdered in, is the same state that made it a hate crime to attack a police officer. Was Alton Sterling really spotted carrying a gun while he was selling his CDs? I don’t know, but even if he was, he’d still have been doing nothing illegal in the state of Louisiana. It’s the same state that doesn’t require a gun permit, registration, license, open carry is permitted, no background checks are needed, and there are practically zero restrictions on assault weapons, magazine capacity, or NFA weapons (ie. machine guns, silencers, destructive devices or “any other weapons”). So when do we get to call it a hate crime for a police officer to kill a person of colour in broad daylight? When do we get to stop watching families crying, begging the establishment to not just say, “This is not ok”, but to actually see some justice.
So yes, disrupt WASPY cocktail party conversation, share your anger online and in real life, Vote with your conscience, contribute to #BlackLivesMatter,sponsor a refugee family, read this article, feel every single painful story, and at the very least, learn their names. For me, it’s partly social justice, but also partly selfish. It’s the only thing that helps me sleep at night.