By Samantha Harris
A few weeks ago, a meme circulated through my newsfeed, that gave me a chuckle. It said, “Do white people know that the dogs in Flint (MI) don’t have clean water, either? Have we tried that approach?” I didn’t share it until I saw someone else do so. It prompted both humor and discussion. A disclaimer, before we continue: I intend to be as gentle in the delivery of my plain truths as possible, but I cannot guarantee that all feelings will be spared. Because I see a problem.
Last year, I lost my home and my beloved cat, Ollie, on the same night. The manager of a place where I had lived and worked, had decided to oust me, and my child, on a Friday night, over the word of a neighbor. For a year-and-a-half, I had lived surrounded by people whose worldviews were antagonistic to my well-being. I did my best to stay to myself. I code switched when I was not able to. More often than not, I found myself being emotionally abused by someone who felt I should call her friend. When I created distance, she would track me down, and give me a tearful apology and a poor explanation. The problem was that I was too different from these people, for them to tolerate.
I still see it in my everyday life. Neighbors, who have wronged me, hide behind their fears of my race in order to not face what they have done to another human being. There is always at least one person per day, who is utterly disturbed by the sight of me. I’ve watched children stare, mouths agape. And then there are the stories I hear from my other friends of color out here. There are so few spaces where we feel safe. And to this day, I fail to understand the fear that my neighbors have of me. I have done nothing to them. In some cases, I have been their victim. And yet, no matter what, no matter what they do or say, I am always the aggressor.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a media buzz about a local pet place, that abused a dog in their care. Like everyone else, I was horrified to see how that animal was treated. I don’t take issue with any of the local outcry or organization that went into advocating for this pup. Nor do I take any issue with all the work done locally for animals; reuniting them with their parents, the care of the ferals... It’s encouraging to see people organize to right a wrong. It’s what we’re supposed to be doing.
The thing that gets me, though, is that I do not see as much passion in the white community for people of color who are oppressed, as I see their passion for animals. So it’s cool to drive across country to get a kitten you’re going to foster (dude, that’s awesome), but when a pregnant black woman is shot by a cop who she’s been harassed by before, somehow, she deserved what she got...or no notice from you at all? Why? And for those who say, “well, the pet is innocent,” true, but in this nation, we’re all innocent until proven guilty. One of those pesky human rights...
I see two types of comments from the white majority when it comes to brutality towards animals, and brutality towards black people, and other people of color. When it’s an animal, across the board, this is horrible. I’ve even seen pet experts in the comments of a video of a pet, that some may find funny. There is always someone there (usually white), who gives factual knowledge on why the animal may not be enjoying itself as much as it’s human is. Cool. For me, that’s good info. You want to be a good pet parent when you have one. Or so, most people think and feel.
But skip on over to the comments on just about ANY black issue. The majority of white people on those threads are critical, no matter what. There’s the tried and true (played out) reference to black-on-black crime. And even when you point out that people are more likely to be killed by a member of their own race, for multiple reasons, you might as well be bouncing a tennis ball against a brick wall. Your words always come back to you, having made no dent in the worldview of the other person.
I’m totally against the abuse of animals. I have one more kitty, that I didn’t lose that night. She was gone from me for several months. Her transition back into my house has been rough. But I knew the real adjustment had to be on my part. You know, another living being. She’s now my lap kitty, and she sleeps on my feet. I still think about my Ollie, I miss him, and I so hope he found a friendly doorstep. He hasn’t turned up. Losing him still hurts.
But, y’all...come on, why is it that so many people within the white community are still defensive towards any suggestion they could treat their fellow human beings of color, better? Why? What definitive proof do you have in every instance where you feel we are at fault for our own oppression, that we have brought it upon ourselves? Are we less than dogs?
All I’m saying is that I’d love to see the same energy the white community gives towards animal rights, thrown at the human rights of black and brown minorities. We are no threat to you. We want to live in peace, just as much as that adorable lab mix you adopted. I’m just saying.
This system of oppression, it is a machine, within which we all are some gear or another. We can change the function of the machine by changing our function within it. It costs so little to forward info about a missing black child. It costs so little to just read an article about minority (this includes black) struggles in your private time and consider it. Consider how you may be contributing to this system. It costs nothing to see where perhaps your life is better due to unearned advantages. And it costs nothing to realize white privilege is not the only privilege, and no one is saying your life was a piece of cake.
Honestly...living out here...I feel like I am less than a dog. Because I can practically taste the hostility with which some of my neighbors treat me. I’ve done nothing past live among them, and yet they see me, and my friends of color out here, as such a threat…
Are we less than dogs? If not, please look up and be aware of the active white supremacy around you. If you are not racist, then call out those who are. I’m sorry, but you wouldn’t care about your uncle no longer speaking to you if he believed animals should just be abused. You’d cut him off. So why not us? We’re human, just the same as you. Call out the people who have 1488 on their persons, vehicles, whatever. Look up what that means. Educate those who fly confederate flags; that the only history that flag represents, is racism, the South lost, and Colorado wasn’t even a state during the Civil War, so we for real have no dog in that fight out here. Understand that Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that ONLY black lives matter, it means that black lives matter, too. And if you think we are just spouting hot air, then perhaps you should know that the history you were taught about this country, is diluted. And for those of you of faith, to ignore anyone who is suffering, well, that goes against the primary dictates of every major faith in existence.
Are...we...less...than...dogs? If not, here are some practical things you can do, to help.
If my words have upset you, I cannot say that I am sorry. I regret you feel discomfort, but I speak the truth. More often than not, it seems like the white community has more compassion for animals than it does for unarmed black people who die at the hands of law enforcement.
We just want to live in peace. That’s very difficult to do when you know the ruling majority sees you as a danger to be hopefully eliminated.
Dear White Women,
It was asked of BLMGJ what YOU can do to be good allies to women of color, this is how Samantha (a woman of color and coordinator for BLM GJ) responded:
Listen to us, please. Please don't pull a "Mrs. Millie" (Color purple) and get upset, telling us about what you do for us when you feel challenged. Personally, I am tired of seeing that. If all this work was done, black women would not be in the situations they're still in, in this nation today.
Being an ally requires constant emotional readjustment. I'd implore you when you read, hear or see something on this journey that doesn't sit well with you, do not immediately respond. Stop and think, ask yourself what exactly bothers you. Then continue the discussion. It is human nature to assume that the things that make you comfortable are based in truth. That is not always the case.
After election night, I decided to become more aware of transgender issues. And I loudly declared myself an ally, asking my new trans friends to teach me. Their response? "Um, no." And at first I got mad, and I was about to pull my ally-ship. But I'd read this article just a few days before about emotional labor. So I decided to do my own, and I realized that it was wrong of me to ask someone so exhausted from trying to navigate this system, to stop and teach me would I could learn myself.
Read black literature. I'm sure they have some Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison at the local library, albeit kinda hidden. I'd suggest reading articles from publications like The Root and Very Smart Brothas, to start. There's also a page here on FB called Not Without Black Women. Just peruse, and also understand that there is a lot of anger out there right now, and it's justified. It is. I'm sorry, but it is. We're human too. We're more than the labels this society has placed upon us, to cover up all that they've made us carry on our backs.
I will warn you, though. In the wider world outside GJ, the interaction with black women may have a bit more of an edge, given all we've been through. I try to temper my words as much as I can. I have my limits, though. Please take a good while before you jump into dialogue, for your own sake. Just read, and if you find something that just doesn't sit well or compute and you have questions, you can always ask BLMGJ. We may not always be able to give you a satisfactory answer, though. Some things just are, and I've learned as of late that there are people who consider themselves to be progressive, who stop short at issues pertaining to people like me. And that is very sad.