Rather than post at length about the cowardice of others, I’m going to ask myself a question: am I a coward? If you’ve been following along closely, I asked myself that question after murder of George Floyd and the subsequent street protests. I did actually take to the streets after that, cautiously venturing out for the first time since the Muslim ban protests of 2017, but that hasn’t really answered my question. After all, I was being extremely cautious, returning before the curfew time that was imposed on the city, or taking part in “family friendly” protests where the likelihood of state sponsored violence was diminished by the presence of lots of little white children. So was I still a coward?
I subsequently listened to this episode of the Code Switch podcast episode (Why now, White People?) which, while it didn’t address my question directly, did give me something to think about. The title refers to why, with the overabundance of extrajudicial and summary execution of black people in America, have White People chosen this time as the time they would take to the streets. There is no pat answer, but there are several lines they follow, and one of them that interested me was the concept of “permission”. White people, by virtue of the sheer numbers of people participating, feel like they have permission to care about this. This made me irate, until I started thinking about it in terms of myself. Maybe it’s not simple cowardice, rather it’s my natural desire to not rock the boat, to conciliate. So I wait till I have permission to be angry, to protest, to speak up – or perhaps a certainty that I am not overreacting. This desire for confirmation/validation of my actions runs pretty deep and may undercut my ability to simply act. I don’t know where it comes from, whether it’s inherent to my personality, or part of my coping mechanism to deal with the white supremacist millieus that I have lived in. Where it came from, it has put the brakes on desire to act on issues that I care about for a long time. Now that I know this, what do I do?