Wednesday, June 22, 2016

On Genele Laird, John Lewis, and Why White Men Shouldn't Be Allowed to Vote

    Last night, at a bar, somebody pushed a phone into my face and told me to watch. It was a video of 18-year old Genele Laird being kneed in the side over and over, even after she is restrained. The cops doing this are at least two times her size, each. I didn’t watch the whole video. There will be another video of another girl getting beat by cops for me to watch next week. For black people, there are no safe spaces in which to be imperfect. In May, in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin, a friend and I got pulled over. I could not see a house or a barn or a street light. I saw the cop’s gun, and I started weeping. I stayed very still, I kept my hands in his view; I thought, you wouldn’t even lose your job.

    I’ve been scared my whole life. I used to skip high school on my bad anxiety days because there was no point being in class when all I could think about was how any moment, Windsor, Conn. could be the next Columbine. Some days, like today, are so overwhelming I cannot leave my house. History calms me. The idea that black people used to be enslaved and now one of us is President makes me cry if I think about it for too long. The Civil Rights movement is so triumphant, but is not over.
    Rep. John Lewis, who was nearly beaten to death multiple times, who somehow looked hate in the face and remained nonviolent, is still active. He’s still making what he calls “good trouble.” He had a toothbrush with him on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma because he knew he was going to jail. I keep wondering if he has a toothbrush with him now, sitting on the House Floor, attempting to get a vote on gun restrictions.

    A friend asked me this morning if evil was winning. I would have said yes if not for Rep. Lewis, who is still doing exactly what he believes in. He tweeted today, “hate is too heavy a burden to bear.” But I’m no John Lewis. His dedication to nonviolence is remarkable and inspirational, but I bear a lot of hatred. I hate the police officers who beat Genele Laird at the mall. I hate the lady who told me I had the “whole Aunt Jemima thing going on” when I wore a scarf to work the other day. I hate Dylann Roof. I hate Donald Trump. Donald Trump is what happens when white men are more scared of equality than they are of 20 six-year old children being shot again. And it will happen again, because I have a hard time believing that even Rep. Lewis can bring about true bipartisanship on gun control.
    It is hard to not let violence and evil win when even if your bills are paid and you are a productive member of society, you are organized and maybe in love, the cops can make any excuse to tase you, knee you in the stomach, and put a hood over your head. Your face isn’t important: you are every black woman, you are taking the same punches John Lewis took, but at least with your eyes covered you can’t see the next awful thing about to come your way. Being black means you don’t need to see a video of a black girl being beaten by the police to know that black girls are being beaten by the police every day. I wasn’t surprised by the Genele Laird video, or that it happened in broad daylight outside of East Towne Mall. I’m almost numb to all the comments underneath the video arguing that the cops didn’t use excessive force. Laird, by the way, is still in jail. Empathy isn’t as widespread as I thought it was. Maybe Republicans would understand Democrats better, or white people would understand black people better, if we stopped letting white men vote. This is the only solution I can think of--a small taste of their own medicine.
    We’ll call it reparations and take a few election cycles off the head start white people took. They put up every kind of legal roadblock imaginable to make sure we wouldn’t catch up. President Kennedy literally had to die to get the Voting Rights Act passed, right around the time white men were celebrating their 200th year of being able to vote. I’m not asking for that long--I know they couldn’t handle it. I want them to know what it's like to not have a voice. I’m not asking that we get to attack them with police dogs or freely rape them or tase them until they can feel in their bones how it feels to be three fifths of a person, fried. Maybe, if they behave, white men can vote again in twelve years. But that’s conditional. They have to stop beating up black girls. They have to stop shooting black boys. Maybe they’re not allowed to have guns at all during this time period. They have to stop killing things for fun. They have to stop wearing flip flops. Many white people will stay in government positions--but only the ones we want.
    In his speech today, Rep. Lewis said that politicians “must be headlights, not taillights.” Old white men, in Congress and elsewhere, are overwhelmingly taillights. We have watched them for too long. I just lived through a primary season of white men my age telling me Bernie Sanders had “finally” given them a reason to vote. Not letting them vote is only one of the many ways they deserve to be told to shut up. White men have always been whole people. I treasure my citizenship. I vote because black women couldn’t until my parents’ lifetime; if you don’t think that correlates to how America treats black women, watch the Genele Laird video again. Watch it until you believe it is real.