“Don’t Expect Any Of These White People To Sit In A Cell For You”
I went to a Black Lives Matter protest. It’s not my usual MO, but I was in a strange mood today.
I got word that my favorite hospice patient had died this morning. She was the first patient I had formed a connection with. I first met her when I nervously walked into her room, expecting to sit with her roommate. She said hello and introduced herself to me. I asked her if I could sit and talk with her for a bit, and she said “I don’t let any of these old niggers sit with me, but a pretty young girl like you can sit right over there.” It’s worth noting that she was black, and that everyone she used the n-word on was not black.
So, I started sitting with with her when I went in to hospice. She was spunky, often shouting at the nurses and telling me people were evil. But she was sweet too. She told me of her dog, a little Chihuahua, who she’d found shivering in a pet shop. Apparently, she’d snuck the dog into her coat (right into the warmest part of her armpit) and ran out the shop with him because she couldn’t stand to see him shiver.
I’m not sure how much of what she said was true; she was diagnosed with dementia. “They think my mind’s going because I’m 100 years old,” she said, “but I know what’s going on.” I’m pretty sure she wasn’t 100, but she was old with white hair. She used to watch out for her roommate too, in her own way. The nurses found her stressful because she would shout at them when they came in the room, but she explained to me that she was had to make sure her roommate was safe. She would shout at the nurses she didn’t think were safe.
She also explained to me why she thought some people were evil. “She’s evil because I am pitiful in her eyes,” my hospice patient told me, “and she’s pitiful in my eyes.” My friend was never pitiful in my eyes though. I saw in her a kind, loving woman who had been warped by a world that didn’t treat her right. A woman who found time to be kind to a dog, to be kind to me, even though the world hadn’t been kind to her.
She was the first patient to let me into her heart a little bit, so I let her into mine. The final day I saw her, Wednesday, she couldn’t talk anymore so I just held her hand for an hour. When I said my last goodbye, I stared into her eyes for five minutes before saying “I have to go now, beautiful. I’ll see you next week if you’re still here. But, if not, take care.” Then, I kissed her on the forehead. She died two days later. Today.
I don‘t really know why I went to that Black Lives Matter march. Maybe because I was sad, and I wanted to be around other people who were sad. My mind wasn’t fully on the events at hand, my mind was with my friend who had died. This white woman got up on stage, and started talking about the young men who had been killed by the police. “They’re real people,” she said, “they could have been men I know, they could have been students in my class.”
And I was just like, who have you lost, bitch? WHO THE FUCK HAVE YOU LOST?
Because there is a world of difference between could have lost someone and actually lost someone. And you could see it in the people who talked, you could see it in the race of people who talked. The black people who got on stage, talked about their family members who had suffered at the hands of the police. They talked about their own experiences. They talked about the fear that maybe, they might be next.
The white people who were there, well — they sort of wanted to be on the right side of history. I don’t want to erase all the other races that were there, it wasn’t just black and white people. But, the conversation was highly focused on white on black violence. So I wondered, what are all these white people doing here? What was I doing there?
There was one speaker who let it all lay on the line. He disagreed with the idea that non-violent protest was necessarily correct, he thought perhaps violent destruction of oppressive institutions was what was needed. “How can black people heal from slavery when we’re still in slavery?” he asked. How could black people heal when the police departments and the prisons were still intact?
He also pointed out that “there is a difference in the level of investment of people in this audience.” People of color would be willing to sacrifice a lot for the cause of police brutality because they were the ones suffering, but he didn’t expect that white people would be willing to sacrifice so much. “Don’t expect any of these white people to sit in a cell for you,” he said.
And, even though I felt sort of unwelcome, I found a relief in that statement. Like, honestly — I am less invested than the people of color in the Black Lives Matter movement. I was relieved that I didn’t have to pretend to be something I was not. And, I’m less invested for the simple reason that I don’t know as many black people as most black people do. The ones I do know either haven’t experienced police violence, or haven’t been open with me about the violence they’ve encountered. So, I don’t feel like I’m protecting my friends. For me, this movement is primarily about protecting strangers. For black people, this movement is primarily about protecting family. I see this thing in a lot of white people who protest, they like, try to kick up reasons to imply they’re more invested than they really are. It could be a kid in my class. It could be that coworker I hang out with sometimes.
Like — no. People care about themselves, and people care about their family and close friends. People very deeply invested in Black Lives Matter will usually be black (or another highly targeted race) themselves, or will related to people who are black. Those are the people who will give everything to their cause.
People like me, well — we have our place. For instance, large groups of liberals of all colors can be counted on to vote effectively on these issues. And that’s important, that matters. But we’re not going to get our asses arrested by storming the police station. And everyone already knows that anyway so like, no need to fake it.
As another one of the speakers pointed out, it’s not just black people who are targeted by the police. The police shoot plenty of white people too. In fact, 50% of the victims of fatal police shootings in 2015 were white while 26% were black. This is statistically unfair, because 62% of the population is white and 12% of the population is black, but point still remains more white people get killed by police than black people. In fact, more white people are killed by the police than any other race.
I know #AllLivesMatter has become some like, terrible thing, but… if it could be used to awaken white people to the brutality they are suffering rather than used to dismiss the suffering of people of color perhaps it could be useful. Ultimately, white people support the police because deep down, they think that they are coming out on top. The white people most likely to show up at Black Lives Matter protests are bougie motherfuckers whose positions in society are relatively secure. Aka, not the white people who are likely to get shot by the police.
If we really want to get white people invested in this game, we need to start with the question “why don’t white people care when other white people get killed?” Why do we never see videos of white people getting killed by the police? Because it is this myth, the myth that white people are safe in our current system, that props up the police state. And, it’s not that white people necessarily care about white people more than other races (many do, but not all) but people who are numb to the danger they are in personally are likely to also be numb to the danger others are in.
I am very tired. I miss my friend.
Rest in peace, beautiful.