You Can Check Out Anytime You Like… *

I was going to name this post “Don’t be Surprised” but I have a real problem with people telling me how to feel so I won’t do it to you. Feelings are fine, but our over-reliance on feelings as some kind of barometer of reality or righteousness is, from my perspective as a meditator, dangerous.

So please, be surprised at the shooting of Jacob Blake. Be horrified. Be devastated. Be angry. Be confused. Be numb, if that’s where you are. But if you are a newly awakened White person, who thought that the murder of George Floyd would stop police violence merely by calling attention to it and calling it out as wrong, I’m afraid this country will continue to disappoint you.

There have been real, positive changes since Mr. Floyd was murdered. Some cities have removed police from primary and schools and universities, some have reduced police funding, many are reassessing the role of police and the ethics of qualified immunity. Many, many people have been smacked in the face by the everyday threats and inequities faced by Black people in the US. Many White folks are digging into their own complicity with supremacist behavior and benefits. Some are putting themselves out there and even putting themselves on the line and having their own encounters with reckless police brutality.

But none of those policy changes or realizations or protests could have been expected to prevent the shooting of Mr. Blake. Even if he were the victim of a police department led by someone less openly, consciously racist than Kenosha’s Police Chief Daniel Miskinis and backed by someone less appalling than Sheriff David Beth (the ACLU is calling for their resignations), the depth of police racism will last long after we remove White supremacy from every medium, classroom, and boardroom in the country. Have you ever tried to stop hating yourself? I’ve been trying for years, yet I’m still filled with disgust and anger and often yelling when I make a perfectly human mistake. Do you think it’s easier to change your knee-jerk reactions to other people?

I’ve always thought of it as a matter of brainwashing, that we need to clean out the lies that have been planted in our brains, and that will change our gut reactions. Mahzarin Banaji, who was one of the creators of the famous Harvard Implicit Bias tests (highly recommended: it’s illuminating), when asked how we can change something that we aren’t consciously aware of said she does things like set stereotype-breaking images as her screensavers – Black doctors in hijab; blind decathletes – as a way to retrain her subconscious. I’m starting to wonder how far that can go in a country that still hasn’t accepted responsibility for chattel slavery or Jim Crow policies or much of anything when it comes to African-Americans. Every little bit of persuasion helps, I guess, but police aren’t just thinking the subtle or not-so-subtle racist thoughts that pop up for all of us at some point: they have to act, and they can’t set those biases aside when they’re called to act. And we continue to call them to do our dirty work, to enforce White supremacy.

Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies pushed me to recognize the pretty obvious reality that our bodies hold our pain and fear and trauma, and as much as we try to make it do everything, the brain ain’t gonna fix it. The Body Keeps the Score, as another highly praised book puts it. Menakem is exceptional in that he explicitly addresses the racialized trauma of White and Black people, and of police as a distinct group.

A caring, awakened police chief (or the municipality with the power to do so) can steer training away from an us against them mentality, they can highlight the real statistics that people of the same socio-economic class commit the same amount of crimes regardless of race, they can institute community policing and residency requirements and bring Black leaders in to talk to cops and work with them, and all of that is good and much of it is helpful, but none of it is going to change behavior immediately. Fear for their lives and the roots of a national racist education are not easy to extirpate. That’s one of the reasons people want to reduce the role of police: to give them less chances to make deadly mistakes.

Mr. Menakem has worked with police on mending their hearts and bodies, but I don’t know how significant the impact will be. Not because I don’t believe in the work, but because I don’t believe that the toxic masculinity that is also infused into our country’s core beliefs will endorse any work on the body that isn’t about strength-building, aggression, defense.

I hadn’t planned for this to get despondent, really. But I do think the problem is always more complicated than any policy or protest will allow for. The very soul of this country is rotten: individualistic, greedy, racist, and violent. Other things, too. But those things, for real. Can we achieve much of anything without changing that? Can we change that from the outside in? Institute our own little local fiefdoms of fairness and healing and mindfulness, our little Beloved Communities, and keep expanding and pushing on the center until it’s forced offstage in defeat and we grab the mic?

I dunno, folks. I spent hours this weekend at an online Wise Hope loving mindfulness retreat and while it renewed my dedication to my own path, I don’t know that I came out of it with any wise hope for our current reality. Not that it matters. I have to keep trying; I believe we all have to keep trying.

Peace.

*image info: Creator: MaxPixel’s contributors/ Credit: https://www.maxpixel.net/

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