I’m not entirely sure how to write words about last night.
I followed and was a part of a mass of people marching in a mostly peaceful and calm-but-angry crowd through downtown Los Angeles, wishing the entire time I knew more about crowd analysis and group-think. I watched hundreds of people collectively decide which way to go, I watched and felt waves of various “moods” move through the crowd, and experienced the collective unity of hundreds of strangers coming together for the same reason. I have marched before in various demonstrations, but last night felt different.
I don’t know why people march. I don’t know why or how it started, or by whom. What I do know is that we all felt angry and disappointed and walking the streets is the outlet we have. I feel awkward saying “we” in this sense, being white and raised with incredible privilege I have no practical experience of this particular struggle. What I do know is that the current system and mentality toward non-whites needs to be seriously questioned, evaluated and changed.
I recently read that white privilege is being “outraged” over Ferguson instead of “terrified” of it. That really resonated with me. I am outraged, but until I read that I realized it’s true: I’m not scared. And I can’t put my finger on exactly why beyond the obvious color of my skin.
Last night I got in-between a black man (a kid, really) and an officer behind a barricade. The kid had thrown an object at another officer and he was picking up the barrier gate and slamming it down. The officer was calm and patient but started to move toward the kid. Everyone else seemed to take a step back, but I stepped in between them thinking the exact words “What is he going to do to me, really.” I maybe prevented that kid from possible arrest, which would have possibly set the crowd off. We were in front of the LAPD headquarters and as my friend put it later on, “It was like walking in a puddle of gasoline, that kid’s arrest could have been the match that set it all on fire.”
I wasn’t afraid of getting jostled around or pushed by the cop, and somehow I instinctively ‘knew’ (possibly naively) that he wasn’t going to do anything to me. Maybe he would have; I don’t know. I can’t actually bring myself to think that anyone would have wanted that to happen, to anyone, ever. But as I moved forward I had every confidence without a feeling of defiance or anger that something like that wouldn’t happen. I guess that’s a good example of what people call “white privilege.” I simply was not afraid, I had had no experience to the contrary.
And it’s bullshit that I can feel like that but other people can’t because they’re poor, or uneducated or brown, or black or asian or gay or trans or or or or [fill in the blank.]
I lack the insight to go any further than that with any eloquence; I’m still processing my experience, so I’ll close with this:
As we marched through Los Angeles last night the crowd shouted “the system is broken” and there was, unless I imagined it, a vein of hope among the crowd, bright like silver. And I was reminded of one of the final scenes of Angels in America. Al Pacino (playing the awful real-life lawyer Ray Cohn) is dying of AIDS. He’s broken down, sick, on the verge of death. And in this scene he asks his young, gay black nurse (flawlessly played by Jeffrey Wright) what heaven is like.
And Wright’s character answers:
“Like San Francisco. Big city. Overgrown with weeds but flowering weeds. And on every corner a wrecking crew. Windows missing like broken teeth. Greedy wind and a grey high sky full of ravens – prophet birds, Roy. Piles of trash, but lapidary like rubies or obsidian and diamond colored streamers in the wind and everyone in Balenciaga gowns with red corsages. And big dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion. And all the deity’s are creole, mulatto – brown as the mouths of rivers. Race, taste, and history are finally overcome. And you ain’t there.”
The lingering idealist in me wants to believe that this time there *will* be change, and this cyclical system of injustice, represented in my mind by the grotesque, dying, racist, homophobic Ray Cohn is truly in its death throes. I hope.
The full gallery is below.