Take a moment and look into your past, find a moment where you’ve felt wrongly treated, felt misunderstood, felt discriminated against. I’m sure we can all find a time like that in our pasts, but let me help you with a hypothetical yet realistic situation:
Imagine you’re back in grade school and your teacher has a favourite student, and it isn’t you. Imagine that you, instead, were maybe deemed a trouble-maker; you are not sure why, but it just sort of happened and now here you are. Maybe it was that time you threw a rock at the sidewalk, or drew something lewd with your friends but you were the only one caught. It kind of sucks, the teacher doesn’t understand you and as much as you try to do well they still look at you suspiciously. It’s obviously frustrating: here you are, trying to learn, still growing and changing as a person, and there is someone in power looking down at you as if nothing has changed, as if you were doomed to be bad forever based off of some random thing you might have done as a kid, things that all kids do because they’re kids and don’t think that much.
Imagine that the favourite student knows this and randomly blames you for things in class because it’s funny or because it distracts from something bad that they did. The favourite student gets coddled and you get scolded. You try your best to avoid confrontation but the favourite student eggs you on, and eventually you lash out in frustration because you keep getting blamed for things, no matter what you say or do. And instead of seeing the pain that you’re in, the teacher sees that they were right all along, that you are a trouble maker, always have been. The teacher reveals that they have the power to expel you, and if you don’t smarten up, you’re going to get kicked out of school, favourite kid watching this unfold with a smirk on their face.
This scenario feels familiar either because we’ve dealt with it in our own lives (in the school scenario or with an annoying younger sibling), or we’ve seen the trope in a movie or television show. Eventually the favourite gets caught being bad, the mean teacher gets let go, and you, the victim, gets an apology from the principal who didn’t know that this was going on at all! What an ending, right?!
Now imagine that when the principal finds out they simply don’t care. In fact, since you’re such a ‘bad egg’ it’s better if the teacher goes even harder on you to teach you a lesson and put you in your place. Imagine that even when the favourite is caught they barely suffer any consequences for things much worse than you’d ever done. Imagine being a parent sending your kid to this school, because you have to, knowing that your child could get hurt. Imagine how much you would warn your child to just grin and bare it, to work extra hard, to be better, to put their head down and become invisible, non-threatening to the egos at the school.
Imagine, if you will, dealing with this not just during grade school, since that’s just the start, but dealing with it your entire life. Imagine always being looked at as a trouble maker, a bad egg, a ‘THUG’, with no thought to who you are as a person. Imagine that the consequence isn’t just expulsion, that it escalates to imprisonment, being shot, or having a knee dug into your neck for 9 minutes as you cry out for your recently-deceased mother.
There are millions of people in this country who do not have to use their imagination to understand this situation because they live it every single day of their lives, and the consequences are just as real and horrifying.
And yet, despite those numbers, there are so many of us that struggle to remember these small instances of mistreatment or discrimination, most likely due to the skin colour we have, white or ‘passing’. And lets be real honest: in some situations, we were the favourite student. And therein lies the privilege that Amy Cooper tried to take advantage of, and that Christian Cooper was tired of putting up with.
If you haven’t lived as a person of colour in this country no amount of imagination will get you close to fully understanding. I’m here to say that our job isn’t to fully understand, our job is to fight against it happening. It’s to recognize our privilege and, instead of taking advantage of it, shaming the people that give it to us. Instead of being a quiet observer to discrimination just because we aren’t the target, our job is to stand up against it. Instead of relying so much on the exhausted voices of the people most affected by this all it is our job to educate ourselves and do the right things.
We are all human beings. If one of us is a target so are we all and you must recognize that. Take a look right now at how our protests are being treated and tell me different. This backlash against the protesters isn’t at them for making up claims. The backlash is for calling out the lie we’ve all been telling ourselves in order to remain unaccountable: that we’re all treated equally, have treated equally, and that we’ve all had equal opportunity in this world.
Please consider giving back to the communities of people that built this country, support your local bail funds, call in and make sure police officers are equipped with proper training, real psychological assessments, and working body cameras. Volunteer your skills to help those who are marginalized, who need protection, and who need lifting up. No more sleeping peacefully until we all can.