Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Last night my 23 year old adopted African American son face-timed me from his new home out in the Midwest country-side. He wanted to tell me about the protests he'd been going to with his new community members - a college town in which he is conspicuously one of very few people of color.
He was proud of his community and their protests. They were led by a young woman of color from one of the local high schools. He expressed his admiration for her leadership.
One evening, he said, the group met up in front of the town hall. The plan that evening was to rally at the town hall with some speakers and then gather up their signs and peacefully walk from there to the police station. It went well, he said, until they got to the station. There this band of peaceful, mostly white-skinned protesters were met by a line of officers with big guns ("Mom they had these massive guns", he said) and riot gear, standing in a line in front of the police station ready to meet the protesters with some imagined need for forceful aggression.
Not to be intimidated, this young leader approached the police chief and attempted to engage him in conversation. She simply wanted him to talk to her and acknowledge their presence. Without saying a word, that police chief - and his entire line of officers with their big guns and riot gear - turned their backs on the crowd. Dismissed them.
Their body language spoke volumes to those protesters. It was the only time in the handful of protests my son had attended that the protesters grew angry and agitated. It turned out ok. They were calmed, they returned to the town hall, they disbursed peacefully for the evening, but with the arrogance of those officers burned into their resolve.
But was it ok? Of course it was not. It didn't end in violence but it also didn't seem to effect any change in the heart of a heartless system - a system trained to aim guns at uncomfortable truths. It was one more in a centuries long pattern of microaggressions.
A single pivot of the body that said to those protesters -
You and your cause don't matter to us.
Your voices cannot and should not be heard.
You are invisible to us.
We have the power to make or break you.
We get to choose to look away and there's nothing you can do about it.
Arrogance in an aggressor activates powerlessness in its victims. That's the way the brain works.
When we are forced into complacency by the anger, abandonment and aggression of others, we feel powerless. Powerlessness is food for the lizard that lives in the lowest portions of our brain and activates the most basic trauma responses - fight, flight, freeze, fawn. Suddenly we find ourselves furiously angry, or fueled to run far away, or powerless to respond at all, instead begging forgiveness and doing whatever we can to smooth things over. And the arrogance wins and the dignity of the person is ground under his boot.
There are only so many times a single person can tolerate this cycle. There are only so many centuries a whole population will allow it to continue before they break in a tidal response.
This is why these protests are needed. Because this country has had centuries of arrogance turning its back on human dignity. It is time for us white folks to check ourselves and stop it in its tracks before it shatters on the rocks of our fellow humans in the little waves of indignities that rise up into a tsunami. Let this be that time in history when arrogance becomes intolerable enough to shake its foundations apart and create something new.