Usually when we(1) say that phrase we’re stressing the first word – the thing that the people it describes have in common, that brings them together. And they did come together last night, along with allies of other ethnicities, in cities across the US to march for peace and for an end to unjust shootings: in New York, in Minnesota, in DC, in Portland, in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia and other states … and in Texas, where 12 police officers were shot.
And that’s where that second word comes in: because black people are PEOPLE. And like any other group of humans, the vast majority of them are good and decent people who want nothing more than to be left alone, to live their lives in peace, safety and as much lovingkindness as they can muster around them. As much lovingkindness as we can muster around us … because I stubbornly believe that most people, most of us of any shade of skin, are good and decent people. But like any other large group of people, among black people there are a few that are just bad, that have chosen to do evil.
What it means to have equality – equality under the law as well as in our hearts and minds – is to just those people, not by the color of their skins but by the content of their characters, as shown in their actions. Go ahead and judge the sniper in Dallas who shot those police officers. Judge and mete out punishment to anyone who may have acted to support him and who survived last night. Judge them, because their own actions have rendered them liable to that judgement. But don’t judge the peaceful marchers they used as cover; don’t assume that people who just want to be sure their sons will survive random traffic stops will support the killings of other mothers’ sons just because they happen to have similar pigmentation to the perpetrators of evil. The shootings in Dallas were an evil done by one or more individuals who should not be judged as a representative of their race.
Also, until they release names and photos, don’t assume the sniper’s victims were white. Nearly half of Dallas police officers are minority (as of 2011, the latest numbers I could find that showed members of the force and not just applicants – their applicant pool is even more diverse. Sure, he said he “wanted to kill white people” – but just as his general actions will probably turn out to hurt other people of color most in the long run, I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t so fussy about his actual immediate victims.
(1) Note: When I say “we” here I mean all Americans of any shade of skin. And I am not predominantly addressing this screed to Black Americans, because most of them already know this shit, viscerally and through experience.
(2) Some days I really do wish I had a pulpit. Stepping down now.