I’m writing this after crying throughout the entirety of the new film based on Angie Thomas’ novel, The Hate U Give.
There’s still a knot of emotion in my chest. And a part of me feels guilty, because for me, it’s just a movie. I can cry tonight, wipe the makeup streaks off of my face, and be fine tomorrow morning. These same tears most likely will never be spurred by reality.
It sucks that it took a movie for me to feel this much empathy.
But that’s the point of movies, right? They take us into their characters’ lives, we get to know them, we come to see them as whole human beings in a way that we don’t see the people we pass on the street. We see that they love and laugh and cry and maybe share some of our interests. We see their pain and the struggles they face. It’s harder to invalidate anyone’s experiences when you are watching them happen, albeit in a fictional setting.
With each real-life death of an unarmed Black person that the news reported, I was upset of course, but I will admit I never truly felt enough. Maybe it’s the unsympathetic way the murders are often reported as if by sympathizing with the victim the newspaper would be choosing a “side” and breaking the rules of impartiality in journalism. Whatever it is, I know I should have felt more.
I didn’t feel enough to say something when two students were arguing about Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter (which shouldn’t even be an argument) right next to me in a classroom last year, even though a part of me really wanted to.
I didn’t feel enough to say anything on social media as a post or as a comment on others’ “Blue Lives Matter” posts, no matter how angry they made me.
I didn’t feel enough to truly get mad at myself for staying quiet. My only excuse is my fear of what others will think of me if I get “political.” I am so privileged to have that as my one fear.
But to me, issues involving racism aren’t political. I think we call things political when we want to sweep them under the tablecloth and continue on with “nice dinner talk” because what is being said is hard to hear. We write things off as “political” when the truth stings so much that we want to argue and argue until we feel like we are right, all is well, white people are good people, always and forever. We haven’t truly done anything wrong. We’re just here minding our own business. How dare anyone accuse us of anything?
I know that that is the thinking of many white people I know. It has been my own thinking in the past too, because I felt attacked, and nobody wants to feel that way.
But I am learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It has begun in my classes, a few of which have had a heavy focus on social justice and race-related issues. It continued with watching The Hate U Give. Admitting my faults and the faults of white people as a race is okay. No one needs to swoop in and reassure anyone that all is well when it is not. Sometimes things are just bad and wrong and there are no valid arguments against it. It’s not fun. It doesn’t feel good. But it is the truth and we need to start just letting it be. We need to let it hurt us and not go searching for a remedy that is only a temporary band-aid. Because we will have to face the truth over and over again, and we cannot deny it forever. It’s a small price to pay. It’s not going to cost us our lives.
I am so ashamed to say that it took me watching a fictional unarmed Black man bleed out in the street after being shot by a police officer to finally tell myself that there are no more “It’s a complicated issue…” or “I’m a white girl. Why would anyone care what I say?” excuses.
I know that saying something is better than saying nothing. Even if it doesn’t “matter” to anyone. Even if readers think “What’s it to her?” Even if readers question my motivations for writing about it. Even if readers assume I did it to just feel good about myself and relieve myself of my white guilt. I don’t want kudos or a metaphorical halo. I’m just tired of my own bullshit. Yes, I’m tired of feeling guilty, but only because I know that deep down, I want and need to say something. And staying silent makes me feel like I have lost a part of myself.
But I am not the best at speaking my mind aloud. So this is my medium (no pun intended). And maybe my thoughts aren’t even coming out right here, but it is the best I can do, and I am not letting any more excuses keep me from speaking up.
If I keep thinking, “What’s it to me?” “Why would what I say matter?” then I am continuing a cycle of silence that allows white people to pretend that racism just isn’t a “thing” because it doesn’t affect us. But racism hurts us all. That was part of the message of The Hate U Give, Tupac’s message in the form of an acrostic poem:
I’ll never forget the day my dad said something hateful and homophobic and I tried to set him straight by telling him why what he said was wrong. He got defensive and asked me why I cared. He asked me if I was a lesbian.
For the record, I am not. But that doesn’t matter. The point is that we sometimes live in our own little lanes and we see the idea of standing up for something that doesn’t affect us personally as so radical and strange. We assume white, straight celebrities who champion every cause for all people are pulling publicity stunts. Because they can’t truly care, can they?
I understand. After all, it is easier to be passionate about the things that affect you or your community personally. It is odd to see someone with such a fire in their heart if it is not clear where the kindling is even coming from.
We can’t stand up for every single cause. But I believe there are a few basic ones that, no matter who you are, you should stand for.
Because the thing is, even if it something does not affect us all, we should still care. Because it’s what’s right. Period.
I have the privilege of not caring if I don’t want to. I have the privilege to pretend that the film was just a movie and move on. I can let my tears dry and forget about what caused them in the first place. But I won’t use that privilege anymore.