Lessons in Visceral Experiences of Racism

For the past two years, I’ve been exposed to images, video, and stories of brutal beatings and shootings of Black folks, especially men almost always perpetrated by White men and often justified, excused, or legitimized by the systems that claim to provide justice. I also have learned about violence against trans* women of color, Native American women, and others without the images and video.

I’m pretty clear that this violence is not a new phenomenon. Rather, my awareness of this violence is a new phenomenon. Because of technology like cellphones there are more people able to capture this violence with the technology they carry with them. Because of social media I am able to learn about this violence more directly and without the filter of the mainstream media. Social media also allows me to listen without demanding that others share when, where, and how I want them to for my learning and placing the burden of my learning on those struggling for survival.

This has helped me connect with these kinds of violence in the name of oppression beyond the intellectual understanding I have from reading testimonials and examining the data.

My privilege as a White man, among others, keeps the reality of this violence more distant from me than others, however, the depictions I’ve been exposed to over the past 2 years has helped me connect on a more visceral level. Because these events are happening so regularly, it has pushed me to be ever more empathetic (not sympathetic) and viscerally empathetic.

I had the opportunity to push my practice of what he calls “muscular empathy” by reading Ta-Nehisi Coates book Between the World and Me, which is written as a letter to his 15-year-old son. Coates understands broad sociological concepts like the social construction of race, intersectionality, and systemic power but he is able to write about them without the distance of the intellectual analysis but with visceral closeness of a father’s pride and fear for his only son.

If I were a Black man, I would be angry, scared, and panicked given the reality. If my two daughters were Black, I would be freaking out. If my two daughters, were Black boys…well this is where my empathy reaches its capacity because I literally have no idea what I would do.

I’m grateful, heartbroken, and above all motivated to work in always for more justice and equity with an urgency as though my children’s lives depended on it, because although their lives probably don’t, many other’s clearly do. Literally.

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