Arizona is a symptom, not the problem

Shall I add to the chorus of the outraged and appalled? Sometimes both sentiments find their expression in angry silence. They’ve been with me for a week now, on my mind and in my gut, never far from reach, finding connections to everything I discuss on a daily basis yet never escaping for anything more than a disappointed shake of the head and some casual words about “dehumanization.”

But I need to say something, something I need to acknowledge:

I’m glad it happened.

Racism is relentless when you open your eyes and your mind to its presence and its structure. To understand it in all its simplicity and its complexity is to agree to carry the burden of knowing. And it will make you crazy. It will eat away at your humanity. It will frame a struggle for you and for those who you love and seek to protect. And it will create moments of doubt, not about whether or not it is there, but whether or not it was even worth it to know it in the first place.

There is a cool comfort in seeing a shadow eclipsed by its form, in watching a ghost become tangible, so real that you can smell it. Arizona did us a favor. It certainly did.

But let’s not pretend it took them a whole lotta of anything to do it. What happened in Arizona is a travesty. But I won’t pretend it is a shock. If it is to you, I am sorry. I open my arms to you and welcome you to the flock. But there is a danger is thinking what Arizona did–and in all fairness, I know it is only part of Arizona that did it, but the word “Arizona” has now come to mean much more than them, or you–there is a danger in thinking that they are unique by the course they have chosen to follow. They are not an aberration, or an exception. They didn’t do this because they had more courage to expose their true feelings and let us all know what they really think. It’s all nothing but a context of numbers, and districts, and money, and junk.

But they speak for more than themselves.

In many sad, sad, ways, even those who are standing up to oppose them, those brave souls who, unlike me, have no hesitation to share their wounds with others, even they are helping to prop up the invisible masses for whom Arizona speaks. I won’t participate in building the edifice of safety for them to further incubate their ignorance. I am reminded of the beautiful and stark truth of Audre Lorde who reminded us that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

And so, my friends, I will say to you that I don’t give a damn if 100 (or 100,000!) naturalized citizens or native-born citizens of this country get questioned, harassed, or even detained as a result of this law and their brown flesh. I don’t. Because the problem, the real problem, isn’t that “innocents” will be victimized by this law. The problem is who this law depicts as the unquestioned “guilty.”

If this law were free of the consequence of racial profiling it would still disgust me as it does. This law is wrong for the way it negates the humanity of millions of people who do the work that allows us to live as we do. It is wrong for the way it succumbs to the ignorance of centuries of hate and fear. It is wrong for the way it clings to the worst that lives within us, and then tells people–hungry people, confused people, fearful people–that it is right, patriotic, good, and moral to feel as they do.

And that’s why we’re lucky. Because the next time we decide to take a risk and share our truth, to extend ourselves and expose ourselves so that others might learn the shape and substance of “marginalization,” the next time we do that, and all we get in return is a bright-eyed smile of disbelief. . .

Well, now, who really is going to look the fool?

“A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.”
–Bishop Desmond Tutu