Originally posted 9/16/17
***WARNING*** The following post deals with a very sensitive and controversial subject. Please stop here if you have difficulties reading or thinking about inflammatory topics. Also, it’s hella long.
Apparently, we have an issue with race relations in America. At least that has been the recent narrative. It’s almost easy to conclude this as fact when we see case after case of black and brown people executed by white (usually) men. However, I recently binge watched video footage of cops committing violence against citizens. My conclusion is that our racial tensions are second to a much more universally accepted struggle. Ok, here’s the situation…
What if I told you that the same disease that makes men and women violate one another is the same one that makes many prefer dogs over cats. Would you believe me? I’m a freaking genius anthropologist. Of course I know what I’m talking about! Ok, I hear you. You need evidence. I will get to that, but I promise you it ain’t pretty. You’ll probably disagree. You may even want to hurl insults at me like Ludacris throws bows. If you have any of these reactions, stop and ask yourself why. Keep in mind that we usually have the strongest reactions to those things we fear are true.
Before I jump into the thick of it, let me ask a question. Who has never heard “because I said so” from a parent or person in a position of authority? If you haven’t, count yourself fortunate. For black people in my circle, this is the phrase that ends all discussions. If you dare to utter another rebuttal, be prepared to dodge shoes, duck out of reach of a slap, or do some Matrix style maneuvering to avoid the assailant laying hands on you. If, as I suspect, the majority of Americans grew up hearing these words as a discussion ender, natural curiosity begs to ask “why?”.
The answer is obvious, right? 1. I’m your parent. 2. I pay for everything in this house. 3. I brought you into this world (“and I can take you out” is sometimes implied). 4. You must respect my government-sanctioned authority over you until you are “legally” an adult. 5. I’m older (implication of wisdom) than you and know what’s best for your wellbeing. Now shut up and go away or catch these hands. But are any of these reasons 100% true 100% of the time? Absolutely not!
Let’s cut straight to #4 and unpack that a bit. The meaning of those words are more telling of who we are in America than they first appear. You, child, are compelled to respect and obey my whims, because I have been given the responsibility to provide for your health and development until a standard age set by the laws of the land. If you fail to respect and obey, there will be consequences. And I have the full support of the government and all its resources of coercion to guarantee that my will be done, provided that the methods of enforcement are not classified as abusive. And there’s nothing you can say or do about it. Is that about right?
You’re intelligent, Friend. I know that you know where this is going. Of course, it’s all about power. It’s ALWAYS about power. Why do you want to be rich? Power. Why do you want to be famous? Power. Why do you want to fall in love? Power. Why do you want a puppy? Um, hello. Power. Dogs are frequently described as loyal protectors of their masters. Dogs follow their owners around, blindly bow-wowing (because I had to) to their humans’ authority. They don’t question a person’s intelligence or fitness to lead them in the first place. That’s why cats get such a bad rep. Stupid cat, how dare you eat the food I buy, live underneath my roof, make me scoop your poop and not worship me as your supreme ruler? Cats are having none of that nonsense. Dogs, on the other hand, are cool with it. Why do you love dogs? Power!
Self-empowered humans do not need to feel dominant or supreme over anyone else, because they understand that they have dominion over the only one they can control– themselves. It’s hard to blame people for seeking to dominate another considering that most people are born into a world that seeks to disempower them from birth. It’s only natural that people will go to great lengths to steal power from sources outside themselves. Why do you think the worst bullies have the saddest tales?
We laugh about black parents beating their children for minor infractions, but what was the message behind those spankings? You’ve done something I don’t like, so I hurt you. Worse still, country black folk practiced the ritual of having the child pick the switch that would dole out the lashes. What kind of crap is that? Not only am I going to beat you for challenging my authority, but I will make you choose the weapon I use to ravage your body. That way you are complicit in the assault. By choosing the weapon, you abdicate your authority over your personhood to me and authorize this beating.
The psychological and physical scars that those beatings leave are witnessed in the prominence of Black people violating others and allowing themselves to be victims of violence. It has literally been beaten into us through acculturation that we are powerless, that our lives don’t matter, and that we can only gain power by getting it from sources outside ourselves. The victimization is perpetuated by the very people who are then outraged when their sons and daughters are continually victimized by social systems of injustice.
Skip ahead to the video marathon. The first video I watched was the death of Philando Castille. As I watched him die in front of my eyes, I was in shock. My impression was that the cop was noticeably afraid for his life when interacting with that black man who advised the cop that he was a gun owner. There are many, many reasons we ALL learn to fear black people. The problem was that Castille’s very existence was viewed as an imminent threat.
I combed through videos moving rapidly from shock to outrage to plain ol’, seething rage. I forced myself to go through as many videos as I could find. I imagined that I would eventually be moved to tears accompanied by feelings of shame, helplessness and sorrow. I figured that I would mourn for the lives lost and the families left to pick up the pieces after the unimaginable occurred. As the sun began its daily ascent, I realized that the tears never came, nor did the shame, helplessness or sorrow. Instead, I evolved from rage to curiosity. How could this continue to happen unabated? How could these crimes be justified by so many people? Not every person killed or brutalized was an upstanding citizen to be sure, but does that point justify their execution?
The answer to my questions lie in the same system of power already discussed. We have collectively empowered misogyny, white supremacy, ageism, homophobia and religious intolerance. Every time we imply that a victim of rape somehow invited the attack by her behavior or manner of dress, we sanction a male’s dominion over female bodies. Every time we accuse a child of being disrespectful because she questions authority, we endorse the culture of disempowering youth. Every time we buy into the notion that black victims must have done something to deserve the inhumane treatment they received, we co-sign America’s longstanding tradition of white dominion over all others. Every time we deny gay people the same rights afforded to heterosexuals, we support the implication that they are a lower class of humans not deserving of the same rights everyone else enjoys. Finally, every time we use religious doctrine to demonize another group of people, we state that our beliefs are superior to everyone else’s.
The examples could go on, but I think you get the message. Another message became clear to me upon witnessing a pattern of behavior develop in the footage. The cops often appeared angrier than the alleged offense would cause any normal, rational human being to become. They also used force that would be considered excessive by any unbiased person with eyes to see. That’s when the realization struck me so suddenly that I gasped and clutched my chest.
The common theme was that the citizens attacked by the cops had the audacity to challenge the officers’ authority. They did not respect and obey as they presumably should have. This offense was so egregious and so triggered the cops that deadly force was employed as retribution. I watched 200lb men punch a woman in the face, neck and head. I watched multiple cops perform illegal chokeholds, two of which resulted in deaths. I watched cops empty their full rounds of bullets into people, one even reloaded. I watched violence committed against person after person all because they dared to challenge a cop’s “because I said so”. The worst part is that all of those cops were government-sanctioned to commit violence as evidenced by their “not guilty” verdicts. Most of the families of the slain were awarded monetary damages (paid for by tax payers’ dollars) while the cops continue to receive their salaries (also funded with tax payers’ money). We, the people, fund the system of violence and White, male dominance.
Power hungry people are drawn to occupations and lifestyles that feed their need for empowerment. It makes no difference to them how that void is filled, as long as it is filled. No one goes into parenthood with the intention of draining the life force out of their children. However, that’s exactly what happens when parents constantly enforce their will without allowing children to provide input or feedback about decisions which directly affect their lives. People don’t consciously tout their maturity over another to zap vitality from the youth, but that’s exactly what occurs when we are dismissive and speak in condescension to anyone we see as younger than (and innately inferior to) us. Most cops aren’t aware of their desire to dominate others, but their hidden insecurities are displayed in their interactions with people they (or society) deem inferior.
We are all in a perpetual power struggle. It appears that most of modernized societies participate in it. Wars are waged because this group seeks to dominate another. Women who dare to defy misogynistic standards or rise to a position of power above that of a male colleague are routinely and openly crucified then written off as bitches. Black people who have the nerve to assert that our lives matter, are equated with the KKK and other hate groups. People who dare to denounce government authority over themselves by living off-grid and proving the unnecessariness of money have their characters assassinated and face heavy fines and penalties meant to serve as justification for imprisonment.
Remember, I warned you that you would probably disagree with me at some point. That’s fine. You have that right. Do you also remember the clever way that I silenced any threat of a challenge by stating that I’m a genius anthropologist? For the record, I am, officially, neither. Invoking one’s profession is another means of exerting dominance. Why do you think so many people seek employment in highly prestigious career fields? As is the case with professors, it is not solely for the pay.
The great thing about empowerment is that people control where they allocate their power. Just as we were taught to pay deference to cops, doctors, our elders, government bodies, money, etc without question, we can unlearn these unhealthy habits of disempowerment. We can reclaim our power by challenging the unchecked authority of any system that aims to subjugate the population or subsects there within. It begins with the simple act of denouncing all of those social structures that seek to oppress individuals and groups. Collectively we can obliterate white supremacy, racism, misogyny, homophobia, religious intolerance, ageism, and any other hateful means of draining power from individuals and distilling it in large social structures.
Furthermore, we can ensure the empowerment of future generations by ceasing child rearing practices that disempower them in the first place. Engage children in discussions about the need for certain household rules, chores etc. That way they understand the importance and responsibility of their input in a functioning society. I have a hunch that this shift would lead to a decline in the bullying epidemic too. Within a generation we could have police officers who are drawn to the job to actually protect and serve. We could have politicians who understand that they are public servants serving at the whim of the people. We could have industries that actually work to make our lives better instead of keeping us subservient while they amass wealth and power to reign over us. It all starts with one decision. Decide to never again derive your power by disempowering another.
When we love and respect ourselves first, we cannot help but love and respect those around us. What we see in the chaos and turmoil in our world is the emergence of empowered people who refuse to silently watch as their fellow humans are subjugated. The people are stripping power from politicians, banks and titans of industry and returning it back to its rightful owner. Power to the people!