Black Lives Matter

I don't know how to write this without offending at least somebody, so I'm not even going to try...

If anything might sum up my upbringing around the topic of race and America, I think it's the music video to REM's Shiny Happy People. It was the 1990s and we had figured it out. America had won the cold war, the economy was booming and everyone got along with everyone.

If it wasn't obvious yet, I grew up in relative affluence and without much diversity. But TV, in the form of Sesame Street and Star Trek, made me feel like things were headed in the right direction. That racism was a thing of the past. I had no exposure to any evidence to the contrary.

I can't fully say I'm sorry for how I thought things were. In my juvenile imagined world things were as I wish they actually were. Everyone had equal chances in life. I didn't grow up learning to look down on anyone. I just grew up not realizing that some were still looked down upon. That equal opportunities were not real yet.

I don't know how we came from that world where we could at least pretend things were headed in the right direction to where we are now. A recent (and twice-impeached) president using terrifying dog whistle language to embolden white supremacists. Police who can and do kill civilians with no repurcussions. Voting rights being gutted by the supreme court. And the list of names too long to even try to reproduce here.

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Dijon Kizzee. Freddie Gray. Cynthia Hurd. Laquan McDonald. Rumain Brisbon. Eric Garner. Corey Stingley. Too many names. Too many grieving families.

Coffin v. United States established the presumption of innocence in the United States. The determination of guilt is not in the hands of the police, but is to be determined by a jury of ones peers. Unless there is clear and demonstrable danger to the public, police executions of civilians are nothing more than an illegal finding of guilt that bypasses the system of justice dating back to the magna carta. Not to mention that it violates the sanctity of life so many claim to hold dear.

There can be no peace and there can be no freedom unless there is justice.

Systemic racism and police violence must end.

But what really boils my blood is the blatant disenfranchisement going on. Never in my life has voting been anything but the wholesome civic responsibility I was led to expect. Walk in, wait 10 minutes max, vote, get a sticker. No lines, nobody questioning my right to vote, nobody wielding an assault rifle. I can't help but wonder if they go out of their way to make it feel this way so we don't take serious the stories of long lines and intimidation at the polls.

The trope I always hear is that America is the greatest country because of our freedoms. I'm in the privileged position of mostly getting to enjoy those freedoms, but even as a college-educated, white, cis-het male in a relatively affluent zip code, I don't feel as free here as I felt when I lived in "socialist" Europe. America is a police state and we (affluent white people) are too comfortable to notice.

We're never going to be the greatest country until freedom is available to everyone, and that starts with the freedom to vote easily and without fear. I admire to the depths of my soul anyone committed enough to stand in line for hours to exercise their right to vote. But it pains me to no end that that is what's necessary. And that it's often not enough.

Please, vote for candidates who will protect democracy and extend its rights and freedoms to all. And if you can, donate to organizations fighting the good fight.

As a bit of an epilogue, maybe there is an irony to my introduction above, as apparently Michael Stipe says he adapted the phrase "Shiny Happy People Holding Hands" from a Chinese propaganda poster issued just after the Tiananmen Square massacre. So there's that.