I finished Malcolm X’s autobiography about two weeks ago after learning a lot about the civil rights movement earlier this summer. Reading about a person with such an incredible amount of conviction and belief in his cause is humbling and inspiring. But reading the truths that Malcom X spoke about 50 years ago and realizing they still ring true is both alarming and a call for action.
As I sit here now, after a week in which two more Black Americans were murdered by police officers and five policemen in Dallas were shot during Black Lives Matter protests — I have so many thoughts and too many feelings. I grieve for the families and friends directly affected by these killings. I question the mentality of the police officers who killed two innocent men. I long for others to feel and understand the state of injustice in our country. I grieve for our country and for our world. I question how I am to operate in this system where I know I am granted incredible privilege. I hope that we begin to see the humanity in all people.
Right now — I think Malcolm would be mad. In fact, I think he would be livid. While some might argue that anger is not the correct response, it is an entirely justified one. We should be entirely livid at the complete and utter injustice. But if we take a step back, it is clear that these incidents are not isolated but part of a larger system in which people still believe in the barbaric notion, on the surface, that some humanity is more important than other humanity. We must understand the culture and mentality of a nation that permits these senseless killings. Years and years of American policy, culture and mentality are revealed through these camera phone videos.
From the beginning of American history, Black lives have never been given true equality. They were slaves without rights. Come the Emancipation Proclamation when slavery was legally declared over, the 1900s still saw an almost unbearable mistreatment of Black lives. Although the Civil Rights Act was passed, the injustices persisted.
Our American policy “ghettoizes” certain communities and current campaigns such as the War on Drugs were started in an attempt to criminalize certain sectors of the population. Before people can tackle racism and institutional injustice, they must first recognize it. Malcolm X put it very well: “You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality.”
Or when he describes this situation, recalling a conversation with a leader from Africa: “He said that only when he returned to America would he become aware of color differences. I told him, ‘What you are telling me is that it isn’t the American white man who is a racist, but it’s the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that
automatically nourishes a racist psychology in the white man.’ He agreed.” 50 years later and not much has changed.
My question is: Where do we go from here? There is no doubt that we need social justice reform. We must educate our officers, children and, frankly, the entire population. But the deeper question remains: How do we address a mentality that is so deeply ingrained in such a large percentage of the American population?
We should and can speak up for others. Just because we might not be in their exact place does not mean that we cannot argue for their cause. And we should also recognize that this is not an attack on Whiteness in terms of complexion, but like Malcolm said: “It was when I first began to perceive that ‘white man,’ as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily; primarily it described attitudes and actions.
In America, ‘white man’ meant specific attitudes and actions toward the Black man and toward all other non-white men.”
I feel anger but at the same time I long for harmony and togetherness. I desire for us to realize that others are not that different from ourselves. I hope that in the wake of this violent week, people would recognize the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the police officers primarily about the tragedy of both of the situations versus an opportunity to take sides.
I deeply long for the day when we preach love and equality and see it practiced in our communities, our streets and in our schools — when we love in spite of and across difference.
I do not write this to attack people or to provide divisions. I write this out of exasperation, out of frustration, out of sadness over the division and loss of life and confusion about our next steps. I write this feeling the need for all of us to just love other people. It sounds cliché, but it is true. But ultimately I write this with the intense belief in the equality of humanity, hoping for a future that recognizes this.
Hannah Daly is a student at UC Berkeley.