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!