After Ferguson, MO – Systems, Privilege, and Art

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

When I was arrested, I was given ample warnings by the police to move from where I was. I was given the opportunity to avoid arrest as people were being arrested around me. The police didn’t even pull my ziptie that tight as they loaded me onto a bus to take me to a station. I complained about the bologna sandwich they gave me and people chanted “hero” as I was released.

When I was stopped by the cops for not having my license plate attached to the front of my car, as they cops found pound after pound of illegal fireworks, as they found drug paraphernalia but missed the loose beers, they were mostly silent. When they called me to the squad car, they gave me a written warning about the license plate and told me if I hurried, I could still make the concert I was on my way to.

When I got caught trying to steal a bottle of tequila from Jewel, the police officer told me to put it back, then helped me find cooking string.

When my friends got caught dealing drugs in college, the cops made them flush it, then let them off with a stern talking to.

I am lucky. I am privileged. Even with a mildly ethnic sounding last name, my skin is light and I come from the middle class. I am allowed to live and fuck up and make bad decisions and make any decisions at all. I am allowed to walk in the rain with my hood up. I am allowed to shoplift without worrying if I’ll live to see the next day. I am allowed to listen to my music at loud volumes in a gas station and never, never do I have to worry about if it will mean the difference between life and death.

At this point, I’m sitting in my living room, listening to the wind howl and thinking about how fucking hopeless I feel. Because I am given these privileges, given these opportunities, and I don’t know how or who to fight to make sure everyone is also given them. I don’t know how to attack a corrupt judicial system, an even more corrupt police force, an even more corrupt society. I don’t know how to make the change that needs to happen, all while sitting in my apartment. Or even if I was on the street. Who do I throw the brick at? What do I light on fire? I want to rip apart the street and throw chunks of asphalt at anything resembling an institution. I want to find someone to personify the government and I want to rip them limb from limb. I want to find the building that holds the keys to our culture and demolish it and salt the goddamn earth. But I can’t. And I feel like I can’t do anything.

And I know I’m a minority by blood, not by culture. I know I’m brown by family, not by skin. I know I rarely, if ever, have to deal with the repercussions of being born into a subjugated class. So I know that my voice isn’t one that needs to be heard. I am not the person you should be listening to. Me and my art school writing degree aren’t going to help expose the struggles and pressures and the getting absolutely kicked in the fucking face that is being a minority in this country. So I’m not going to talk about it. I’m going to talk about trying not to feel so hopeless anymore.

My failings, our culture’s failings are that we don’t do anything until it is too late. We—the vast majority of us—flinch in the face of politics. We avoid topics that are uncomfortable, that might cause friction. We argue when they come up. We talk about racism when kids are shot for playing with replica guns, but after the cases are settled, after the anger has given way to apathy, we let everything go back to the way it was. We say things like “Well, I’m not surprised.” We ignore the systemic problems until we’re forced to confront them. We remove ourselves and then have to say things like “I have no idea what it is like…” We enjoy the safety of our bubbles for as long as we can.

And when we can’t anymore, we talk about fixing a system that’s too broken for repairs.

But we’re at a point where there is no fix. There is only the destruction of our culture and the building of something new. We can’t sit around and talk about the outcomes without talking about the inputs that got us there. We have to work.

And here is where, if I was a more studied person, if I knew more about culture and society and politics, I could put forth the blueprints to building our new future. But I’m not that smart. I’m not that smart, but I do an alright job of putting words on paper. So I can write. I can write about politics more. I can write about our responsibility as artists to put these themes and problems into a language that is understood universally. I can write about the people that are working to dismantle the broken system and fix things. I can, we can, as a magazine, bring voices into the conversation that we have historically left out. We can do better. All of us can do better.

Because we all have something that we can do. We can all help, whether it is by volunteering time, money, a voice, a helping hand, a share or a like or a retweet or a click or a—if you still believe in the system—a vote. We can make art. We can help others make art. We can tackle the hard concepts and show people that we can work together. We can talk about the problems in the world, even when they aren’t right in front of our faces. We can be focused on the world, we can look forward, instead of only making pretty words and pretty pictures and waiting for the next unarmed minority to be murdered by the police, for the cop who killed them to not get charged.

Because if you’ve been stopped by the cops and didn’t worry about being shot, you have an obligation to help those who have.

And if you have worried about it, let’s work together to make the last time the last time.

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