Racism is an Auto-Immune Disease

Anti-racism advocate Jane Elliot says, “The number one freedom that white people have in America, is the freedom to remain totally ignorant about the injustice committed against those who are other than white.”

I can’t see how even most lily white reader can remain totally ignorant of police brutality in this country since the era of body cams and cell phones. And yet police brutality persists. Let’s take ignorance off the table. Something more intentional is going on.

Gentle Reader, since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, I have been unable to fill this space with the posts you’ve come to expect, in which Ms. Lab Rat finds a new way to confront some problem with her ever unruly immune system, shares her discovery, and exhorts you to stay well.

I don’t want this page to be a refuge from the news that’s coming in from protests all over the country, images of people who have had enough of police brutality, and images of the police responding with more brutality. (Have you noticed how no funds have been spared to boost our police force with a seemingly endless supply of body armor, rubber bullets and pepper spray? Wait… is this the same country that can’t afford to outfit our health care workers with PPEs or to provide them with hazard pay?)

Our tax dollars are clearly not for the preservation of human life, but for the preservation of white supremacy.

The police in my city have taken down the American flag, and replaced it with a Thin Blue Line flag. In my mind, that is an unpatriotic action. But maybe the America I believe in was a white-washed America, an America that didn’t much acknowledge it was built on genocide and slavery and exploitation and extraction and domination and never gave a damn about black lives, thank you very much.

Darn it, I’m doing exactly what I was hoping to not do. I’m reacting. Multiple Sclerosis is a harsh teacher; this disease has taught me the hard way that when I react to a negative stimulus, I hurt myself. I’ve been working to be less reactive… and more responsive. What does that mean, exactly? To be responsive is to look directly at negative stimulus, and step back. Identify it. Identify how it makes you feel.

I’ve stepped back. I’ll tell you how I feel; I feel sick. It’s a sick, sick country that prefers to handcuff hundreds of protestors than to handcuff four bad caps.

Over the years of taming my MS, I’ve learned to take the long view on a problem. Take the problem of anti-maskers demanding their rights to freely spread Covid wherever they feel like; I’ve managed to take the long view and not get so mad at the anti-maskers that I wish for them to suffer the consequence of their actions and contract Covid themselves. I’m fully aware that if my wish were to come true, the anti-maskers could spread it to undeserving people, such as those underfunded health care workers I was talking about. For a fable-quality twist of fate, the Covid could spread to the ill-wisher: me.

The bad news about Covid is also the good news; we are all interconnected.

I’d have to take an incredibly long view to see any end to racism, which isn’t going to go away at the end of this news cycle. Clearly, it has not gotten fixed; according to Professor Kehinde Andrews, it will never get fixed within the White Supremacist system, the only system any of us has ever known. Andrews says, “Because the symptoms of racism are deadly, we often focus on these symptoms. Just like with anything, if you treat the symptoms and you don’t treat the disease, you’re still going to be sick. The disease is capitalism.”

Gentle reader, stay safe. In these frightening times, do your best to live in power, and not in fear. Let’s all work for a society that is fair, just, equal, and loving. For those of you who are also seek to learn how to respond, rather than react, consult this excellent talk by Tara Brach. The more we all practice mindfulness meditation, the more we activate the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that operates on a basis of morality.

Be well! Be generous with the resources you have gained. We are all connected.

2 thoughts on “Racism is an Auto-Immune Disease

  1. Last night I started watching a Netflix series about the history of Black actors and directors in American film. And as I heard Harry Bellafonte and Diahann Carroll and many other people speak — these old, elegant, well-preserved people with Things To Say — I realized I had spent my childhood watching these adults struggling to be regarded as people, and I felt ill, so ill. To have lived inside a society that put these very real people on as entertainment, modern shuck, modern jive, and to have watched it uncomprendingly, as I was meant to do. Those movies and shows were themselves vehicles for telling me that Black people were not people. And the force with which filmmakers and TV producers had to push against that in order to make stories in which Black people were people warped those stories, too, made them strange and emphatic in ways I didn’t like the taste of, at eight, ten, twelve.

    There are always conflicts in this country to do with what “white” means, since it’s an historical construct; when I was little, when you were little, there was still not total overlap between white and Irish. Italian was partway white; German certainly was white, as were English, Scottish, Scandinavian, Dutch, French (if with suspicion); Greek, definitely not. Jewish…not when I was little, but by the time I was a young adult, certainly, because I remember discovering that I’d been promoted.

    With regard to Black, though, I absolutely was white, even as a little girl. Because all white had to mean in that context was “not black”. Those were other people, nothing to do with us. How could they be? They showed up on the screen as distinctly Other People, in classrooms they were lone and silent till junior high, but even then I didn’t spend my days with them (I don’t believe there were any Black kids in the honors or gifted classes). In retrospect I don’t even know how I wound up with Black friends. How that happened. I know we ate lunch together, had fun together, and it all broke down as soon as it came time to call for each other at our houses. Because we lived too far apart and the neighborhoods and houses and fathers told us we were in the wrong places.

    For me, though, there was something else. I’d moved from New York when very young; my parents were New Yorkers, my entire family was New Yorkers, we were back in New York at least twice a month because my still-very-young mother had to go home and be with her mother, instead of in this foreign place, Pennsylvania, that we’d moved to. (Which meant my father had to drive us.) And if you go to the wrong neighborhood in New York, get on the wrong train, even if you definitely should not be there, a thing that is true is that you’re still all New Yorkers and there are things that are commonly understood. Here, in PA Dutch country, something else was happening, and when I went to my friends’ houses I was visiting foreign countries. I was not only in the wrong place but failing to understand what was happening in that place, and not part of that place.

    Of course there is racism in New York. Always. But because everyone’s there, even if you are racist, you sitll have to recognize that lady over there as _a person_ with whom you share something. A city, a bus, a line, seventeen annoyances, an imperative of money, all kinds of things. You don’t really have the right not to. (As I think about it, actually, this is a recurring Seinfeld shtick: one of the four is offhand with someone who’s [category], treats them as [category] and not person, and they get approximately what they deserve. He’s like some kind of reverse Faulkner, Larry David.) It’s difficult in that world to regard yourself and your skin and your features as What There Is, and anything else as not really people. That has to be very well-advertised at you for you to believe it. And that has been one of the profound and ringing shocks of my 30 years in the upper Midwest, which lived in isolation for so long that I still, very clearly to anyone, still do not belong here. Even I’m not a person here.

    And this seems to me the central question: how do white people come to understand that they are not What There Is, that they aren’t special that way, the air the world breathes? And how do they come to understand that they don’t have a team or a tribe? Because that’s how white people lose whiteness in cities: they understand that they’re alone beyond ordinary loves, and they look out at the world without any belief that they are, in some way, special. They demand no special favors on account of whiteness and it doesn’t appear to occur to them that they might. They talk to every person as people. You’ve met people like that; they’ve always been around. People are afraid when they show up at first, then notice that this cat is strange, but all right.

    Because this is a problem of white people. Just as Christian religious wars in this country are a problem of Christians. And while I do believe that there is a sizeable contingent that really loves that sickness and will hang on tight, I suspect that tens of millions are there simply because it’s what’s around them. I don’t really believe that that many people in the world actively want to play armies.

    I am so extraordinarily tired of living a life around fighting the worst, stupidest, laziest, greediest, most deliberately ignorant people and ordinary men’s extraordinary terror of other men and their own failure. I have other, better things to do. And I don’t believe that most people are this actively selfish. I think most people have generally benign if uninformed sentiments, and that if a leader gives a reasonably simple explanation for why doing a thing is good, they’re fine with it.

    And I’m going to go do something worthwhile now. Thanks, Lisa, for writing that post.


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