Open Letter to Two Friends

Open letter to my two friends:

Within 24 hours you both told me of the horrors of Buckhead, Georgia.  Sounds like an eruption of violence and criminality that shocks your conscience.  (One of you actually warned that dozens of immigrants may be arriving in my neighborhood and wanting to move into my house, as if some unnamed Guatemalan tour guide is trudging through central Mexico this minute with my address on scrap of paper in their pocket, but that problem is for another day.)

For those of my other friends peaking at this open letter who don’t already know, Buckhead is a rich, white (80%+) suburb of Atlanta that has had an uptick in crime, maybe even a serious uptick.  My two friends live in rich, white (80%+) suburbs of Cleveland and Hartford.

Violent crime, crimes against property, and vandalism have disrupted life in Black neighborhoods in Atlanta and Cleveland and Hartford for decades, and neither of you ever has said a word to me about that problem.  But crime goes up in Buckhead, and you and apparently millions of other Americans act like the world is about to end.  Just hearing about it, my God, it’s almost enough to make you want to go out and lynch somebody!

WAIT!  To all my conservative friends:  Don’t stop reading.  I’m not accusing you of being about to join a lynch mob.  I just needed to get your attention.

I’m trying to get you to stop and think about how you learned about Buckhead and how that source is playing on things that operate deep inside you and all of us, things we rarely think about and even more rarely recognize for what they are.

Why is it that you find the news from Buckhead so compelling, but you dismiss without a thought the horrors suffered for decades by poor Blacks in Atlanta?  Why is it that news of a shooting in an upscale mall in Atlanta is a call to arms that you must share with all your friends, while you are silent when a single mother is shot down outside her supermarket in a poor, Black neighborhood in your own city?  Buckhead is 1000 miles away, for Pete’s sake.  Why do you care about Buckhead?

You know why we care about what’s happening in Buckhead?  Because that stuff isn’t supposed to happen to “us”; it happens to “other” people; ”  It’s called white solidarity.  We whites have to stick together.   If it’s happening to white people in Buckhead, it’s tantamount to happening to us.

We don’t even think about why we think those things or where those thoughts come from.  All we know is that a threat to rich, white folks anywhere is a threat to all of “us.”

We all have it.  We grew up with it.  Our lives, white lives, are the way life is supposed to be, and the stereotypical lives of poor, Black urban Americans are the way their lives are supposed to be.  They shouldn’t live where we live, and they certainly shouldn’t visit the worst of their lives on us.  It’s just not supposed to be that way.

I’ve admitted it here before, and I’ll admit it again: it’s in me just like it’s in you.  I have those thoughts.  It’s part of American culture – we find it natural, we find it normal that the lives of whites are different and better than the lives of Blacks.  As Kendi says, we all have been stamped from the beginning.

However, in a country that aspires to be the very best, to treat all people with dignity and fairness, to allow all people to be free, those thoughts inside us are wrong.  Safe, secure, and peaceful for whites and violent, insecure, and threatening for Blacks is NOT the way it’s supposed to be in the United States.  Crime in Buckhead is NOT a bigger problem than crime anyplace else in Atlanta, even if people in Buckhead pay more in taxes.

So, recognize that your alarm at events in Buckhead is your white supremacy showing.  Once you recognize it working within you, you will begin to recognize why so many Americans continue to ask for change.

We won’t make it right until we see it in ourselves.

Wishing you and everyone all the joys of freedom.  Happy Juneteenth, everyone!

 

5 Replies to “Open Letter to Two Friends”

  1. Wow – well said, Mark! Something is indeed seriously wrong when we worry about crime in rich neighborhoods only. I hope your essay forces more people to think about that. (And thank you for the chuckle at the notion of the Guatemalan tour guide with your address.)

  2. I don’t completely agree Mark. It’s appropriate to be concerned about crime in African American neighborhoods. However, it’s also appropriate to be concerned about new or escalating expression of violence. Attacks on Asians and Asian Americans or Jews are a good example. Would you criticize whites who were concerned about these, simply because violence has been prevalent for many years in African American communities?

    • Allan, you’re correct that rising crime and violence is a problem in America, and I didn’t intend to imply otherwise.

      I think you have missed my point. The point is not that we have problems that need to be addressed. The point is that in a society where white supremacy is a societal norm, we address problems differently depending on the racial mix of the people affected by the problem.

      How this country has reacted to crime for decades, and how my friends reacted to increased crime in Buckhead, affords us the opportunity to see white supremacist attitudes at work in our country. Drugs, addiction, and related crime were prevalent in some Black communities in the 50s, and white America largely ignored the problem. Then, in the late 60s and 70s, drug use spread to whites. Drug enforcement became a big issue. The observable fact is that the country reacted differently to the problem depending on who was affected. (And, by the way, the reaction was to pass laws that disproportionately imprisoned Blacks.)

      White Americans need to begin to recognize what Blacks have seen for decades: when viewed from a white supremacist perspective, problems are important to whites only if they affect whites. That is exactly why the slogan (not the organization) “Black lives matter” is so meaningful to so many people. It is a Black plea to white people to recognize that their problems matter.

      So, by all means, let’s address crime in Buckhead. But this time, let’s address it everywhere.

      Have a happy Juneteenth!

  3. The extent of violence and crime in areas where poor people and persons of color live is a national disgrace. Chicago, with its epidemic of guns and murder, mostly affecting poor people and persons of color, is perhaps an extreme example, but it is not the only place where these conditions exist. These conditions, i.e. high levels of crime and violence, do not exist to the same extent in areas where the population is predominantly affluent and white as they do where the population is predominantly poor and of persons of color. We can probably all agree on this much.
    The next step is more difficult. If we who are affluent and white can agree that crime and violence affect poor people and people of color to a greater extent than they affect affluent white people, do we then have to ask why this situation is allowed to exist ? Do we have to ask further then is it because those of us who are affluent and white do not care enough about the level of crime and violence against poor people and persons of color to see to it that this does not continue ? It is much harder to agree (admit) that you do not care enough to do something, than it it is to admit the condition exists.

    Maybe we as individuals and as a society have to come to grips, first, with whether we really care enough, to be a part of the solution to the inequities in our country that harm the lives of persons who are poor and who are of color. Maybe the conversation should be at this level, that is do we care, rather than at the level of debating abstract propositions such as “white privilege” or “white supremacy” which raise emotions and divert attention from practical solutions.

    What those solutions may be is a question for another day.

  4. Violent crime is out of control in all major inner cities and unfortunately there is no question that it is being ignored. It is also often minimized, and at times even excused. It is a tragic situation. Is some blissfully ignorant fat cat living far away somewhere in a gated community the only guilty party?

    No.

    How about the main stream media, busy declaring protests to be “mostly peaceful” while many lives were lost and entire inner city blocks were destroyed, significantly impacting the quality of life in the inner city. The media could care less. On the other hand, they continue to be obsessed with the Senior Citizen Capitol Tour, otherwise referred to as the “Insurrection”, because the lives of our precious politicians – who were at worst inconvenienced – mean so much more, after all, in their eyes than the lives of individuals struggling in the inner city. The media is only interested in an inner city shooting in those very rare instances where there is police involvement.

    Inept politicians like DeBlasio and Lightfoot and others also turned a blind eye to the destruction caused by all of the rioting, and push a defunding narrative and other wrongheaded policies that leave residents unprotected and only make streets more dangerous. They also pushed draconian lockdown policies that only made life in the inner city more impossible to navigate. Hard to see how they care much at all. They have no clue what to do to protect those in their cities who depend upon them for their very safety. So they distract, deflect, blame the NRA, and of course, blame the police. Rudy Giuliani is not very popular these days, but there is no question that he actually cared about the safety of the people of New York and did something about it. Does DeBlasio? What do you think?

    And then there are “prosecutors” hand-picked by George Soros in various cities – Los Angeles, Philadelphia, others – who refuse to aggressively prosecute crime and who preside over foolish bail and other policies. They clearly want to protect the rights of the criminal. The victim, not so much.

    No question that many who are not directly impacted by the problems of the inner city have little concern for what is going on there. That is wrong. Unfortunately, those in the media, politicians responsible for the safety of city residents, and feckless prosecutors all seem to be sharing that lack of concern.

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