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Seasons Change

One of the critiques leveled at Southern California by Folks Elsewhere is that there are no seasons here. It certainly feels that way sometimes, especially if one’s only input are temperature charts and occasional visits.

We do have seasons, though. They are subtle, and that subtlety forces one to pay attention, especially if one’s mental health is dependent upon both a high volume of sunshine and a well-developed sense of the earth moving under one’s feet.

Today the light is a little softer, it’s golden color a little more burnished, the sunrise a bit more leisurely. There’s a crisp coolness in the morning air that wasn’t there a week ago. And while the temperature is set to toddle upward of 80 degrees, it will feel different.

Seasons are changing. Beyond the physical world, it would appear that we may be entering a new season in our collective sociopolitical lives.

As I write this, we are entering the 10th day of hostilities between the police department of Ferguson, MO, and the town citizens. I use that term, “hostilities”, because it seems to me if at least one party is dressed for a war, warlike terminology is appropriate. In no way, however, should indicate that this conflict is evenly two-sided. From all reports, it is the police force that has chosen to treat angry-yet-peaceful and law-abiding people as hostile, purposefully driving up tension and placing a city under siege. It is an apparently entrenched attitude, one that may have lead to this month’s instigating event: the police shooting of an unarmed, presumably innocent black teenager, Mike Brown.

As a nation, we bear witness to these attrocities. To the apparently unnecessary use of deadly force. To a circling of armored tanks. To muddled, tarnished investigations and victim-blaming. To ongoing judgement based on what one might do, not actual action. To brutal arrests based on slight provocation. To the suppression of the press. To the suspension of basic human rights and civil liberties. To helplessness and anger and frustration. 1) If you’re playing catch-up, Vox.com has a nice page of reporting and analysis

And I hear, over and over, “This is not America!”

If you are born white in the United States, you are taught that this is the home of the free and the brave. That we, as a country, are active opponents of tyranny in any form. That this is the land of opportunity, for anyone who’s willing to apply themselves and to work hard. That the United States is a city on a hill, a light of sanity, reason and liberty to the world, especially “those countries” – the non-democratic, non-capitalist, second- and third-world suppressive police states where they abhor us for our superiority¬†awesomeness.

If you don’t look too hard, if you never look outside your own experience, you might believe it. Cursory examinations of news stories and statistics would seem to back this up: that people who are not successful here have simply not worked hard enough. That anyone can become rich and powerful (Oprah! Honey Boo Boo!). That our government is guided by god and has our best interests at heart.

That if our police forces target someone, they’ve got a good reason.

Like seasons in Southern California, the statistics and brief visits don’t show the whole story.

I know that for a lot of people Ferguson is new news. It is a crisis casting light into corners they didn’t even know existed. For others, it’s a wake up call – a stark reminder that their lives are charmed by spell casters outside their control.

To you I say, “Welcome to America.”

Ferguson isn’t an isolated incident, a situation spun out of control, a community in chaos. It is our legacy. It is the direct result of hundreds of years of oppression, of deciding that some people are inherently better or more deserving than others. That some customs, religions and lifestyles are “primative.” That people are the sum of their perceived potential, not their actions or abilities.

Ferguson is America. It is exactly America. This is what we do, over and over and over again. Yes, there may have been some idea at some point that we could be better than this, that we should be better than this, but we’re not and we never have been.

If you’re just waking up, know this: your blindness, your sheltered optimism, hurts people. And it will continue to hurt people unless you choose to stay awake, choose to create change within your own spheres of influence. 2) If you need a place to start, this is useful.

Know that it may get worse before it gets better, that this fight may lose you friends and loved ones, that it might get you branded as unsavory, crazy, radical, even traitorous. None of this is simple or easy, and we must have winter to have spring.

Stay awake anyway. If we are to have any chance at the society we pretend to be, we must.

Notes

1.
  If you’re playing catch-up, Vox.com has a nice page of reporting and analysis
2.
  If you need a place to start, this is useful.