United We Stand. Divided We Fall.

Last week, the day after the Dallas shootings, I got into a bit of a kerfuffle with some Black Lives Matter folk.  The exchanges happened exclusively over Facebook - in the comments section of an Event page for a Protest of the Killings for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.  The Event was being organized by the Coalition Against Endless War, which is a predominantly white organization.  They were working in tandem with the local NAACP and with the Black Lives Matter groups, though the latter had no facebook presence and the protest was not on the BLM page.

When I got the invite to the CAEW's event, I immediately started inviting my circles of friends on Facebook and via email and text.  The original number of invitees was in the low 200s, once I'd invited all the connections I have in Highland Park and New Brunswick and from the vigil we held for Orlando, the invitee list was up in the high 400s - around 460 or so.  It was at this point that someone posted the following message on the page:

Hey I'm apart of BlackLivesMatter in Austin, Texas. My friend linked me to your event. And I'm concerned that there are seemingly not many black people who are being invited to this event, which is especially troubling considering the racial makeup of New Brunswick as a whole. I have a question: are you all affiliated with the official BLM network? If so, more black people should be involved in the running of this event, due to the type of movement that BLM is.

Admittedly, I didn't read this post very carefully.  I was feeling frantic about the Dallas shootings and about an all-out race war starting within moments.  I was feeling quite terrified and overwhelmed.  When I read this what I focused on was the idea that white people shouldn't make up a majority of a BLM event.  Again, I don't know much about the inner workings of BLM as a movement and I'm not in the movement.  But, I just felt - so strongly - that this rejection of support from white people was so myopic, so narrow-minded, that it was truly offensive.  So, I wrote back:

The Coalition Against Endless War is standing in unity with the Black Lives Matter Coalition of New Brunswick. They have an invite page, as well. [this turned out not to be true - Ed.] The New Brunswick NAACP is supporting and showing up as well as various churches in New Brunswick. This is not a black issue. This is a human issue. We must all stand up - no matter what our skin color. Black people are not being excluded from this protest in any way, shape or form. It's just that non-black people are being invited - by BLM and the NAACP - to stand with them in solidarity.

I'm sure it won't be surprising to you that my writing "This is not a black issue," was the only aspect of what I wrote that got attention.  And it got a whole lot of attention (from about half a dozen people).  And it was misconstrued and re-contextualized in ways that had nothing to do with what I was saying.  This back and forth went on most of the day.  I continued to try to make my point that ALL OF US are on the hook.  Why exclude white people, when white people are part of the problem and part of the solution, too?  
I admit that I completely neglected to sensitize myself to the nuances of the Black Lives Matter movement and to the protection they feel over their own pain and grief being co-opted.  
But I also didn't realize the buttons that were being pushed in me.  The very deep, emotional buttons that were being pushed that were driving me to pursue the concept that this - all of these killings and murders - are a HUMAN issue, not black, LGBT, woman, etc. HUMAN issue.
To understand these buttons, we have to go back to 1977 in New Haven, CT.  Me: Half Japanese, Half Jewish kid going to public school with a bunch of Japanese kids and a bunch of White kids.  When I hung out with the Japanese kids, they made fun of me and left me out by talking Japanese around me and laughing at the way I used chopsticks.  When I was around the White kids, they made fun of how I looked so "Chinese" and they bullied me and physically attacked me.
Where did I belong?  Nowhere.
It became clear to me as a mixed kid that I was never going to belong.  The chances of finding a gang of half-Japanese and half-Jewish kids was unlikely, to my mind.  So, I thought, well - if I'm going to belong, I'm going to have to belong to everyone.  
Either that, or I'd belong to no one.  I don't know how best to relay the deep pain this un-belongingness created in me.  I wanted to find "my people," but being cast out by the two groups that I might have belonged to at such an early age made it clear to me that I never wanted to exclude anyone.
So, while I understand, intellectually, how important it is for people of like backgrounds to join together at times of struggle and pain, I actually do not understand (in my heart) how it takes away from these people to join with others at their time of need.  It costs nothing to say, "Thank you for grieving with me."  It costs so much in time and energy to say, "You don't get to grieve with me and here are the reasons why."  Who has that kind of extra time on their hands when we are in a war for the racial stability in our country?
When speaking to my student and her friend that day, I explained myself this way: "If I lose my spouse and someone comes up to me and says, "I feel your loss." It doesn't take anything away from my grief to allow for their grief.  Why would I need to be possessive of my grief?"
Well, that's the crux of it, isn't it?  BLM is possessive of their grief because they (some of them who see things this way), as Black people, have had so much taken from them: their culture, their lives, their ideas, their inventions, their history.  They are hyper sensitive to their feelings being co-opted, stolen, overshadowed, etc.
I missed that.  And for that I am deeply sorry.
Even still, for those who feel ready to unite with people of all backgrounds to form a stronger Union in these United States, I hope that I can bring some people together (there were numerous people who were supporting what I was saying, some were Black, most weren't) around the idea of Unifying all of us.
United we Stand.  Divided we Fall.
Power to the Unifiers & The Peaceful and Love to All,


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