GUEST COMMENTARY: Ask yourself: Why do I justify oppressive view?
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GUEST COMMENTARY: Ask yourself: Why do I justify oppressive view?

From the Voices Through Unrest: Region weighs in on racial strife, divisions series
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Jenna Bellezza

Jenna Bellezza

Racism in America is a HIGHLY complex issue. I have spent days since our attention was taken away from COVID and placed firmly (again) on this historic condition to really reflect on how I truly feel about it and its impact on me.

The reason this is critical is because my usual modus operandi has been to “observe from a distance” — meaning to be aware but not to get emotionally impacted. I realize this is both a good and not-so-good way to handle this particular topic. Good because one should never seek to handle or solve something in the throes of emotional angst. Not-so-good because what I personally failed to do by doing this was to permit myself to feel the hurt. As I recently said during a radio interview, we must permit ourselves to grieve, or we will find ourselves doing it in spite of ourselves, which often results in an unhealthy expression of said grief.

This recent incident, perhaps thanks to COVID, gave me the opportunity to finally face how such actions actually make me feel. COVID removed those distractions that would have permitted me to busy myself with other things so as not to have to think about it. A protective mechanism, I suspect, against having to deal with such a hurtful problem with no (obvious) solution.

As I have read the Facebook posts of others in grief, some who I know well, some not so, something happened that I never even considered. That something that has been so difficult to put words to, as I read the angst, anger, and frustration of the many, I finally found those words. Which i would like to share with you below ...

1st let me admit that I at 1st was NOT going to share my epiphany, for fear of whom I might offend. I can't tell you how often I’ve gotten texts about being careful about what I share on social media during COVID. And as careful as I think I'm being, I still get those texts to this day. But today, I don't care who I offend. I hope that what I share will help give others words, or those reading an understanding, of what Black America's angst is, or at least 1 part of it, for as I said at the beginning of this, it is truly a complex thing.

What I noticed this time around was how instead of admitting the police officer went too far, the 1st thing that happened was trying to uncover something negative on the part of Mr. Floyd so the officer's behavior could be justified. It was irrelevant what Mr. Floyd was doing in that moment, and did it justify the treatment he received from that officer, but if they could find ANYTHING in his history that they could use to justify the police officer's actions, we would have been fed that, on amplified, and the police officer would have gotten off free.

They at 1st suggested he had an underlying health condition, so this excused the officer. They then said the maneuver the officer used could in no way suffocate a person. Then they discovered drugs in his system (if they weren't even planted there, which we know happens or so many movies wouldn't be made about that activity); and if the world hadn't blown up about Mr. Floyd’s death, they would have used that to justify the officer's actions. Then they discovered COVID in his system.

This systemic behavior is troubling, if not even evil. That rather than admitting this dude (officer) was a bad egg who needed to suffer the consequences of his "stupidity" (meaning, his stupid choice of action), that the system — the officer's superiors, the coroner, and the media — instead sought evidence to show why Mr. Floyd deserved the treatment he received. IMO, this would NOT have happened if Mr. Floyd had been white. The officer would have been punished as rogue.

I realized with this time that this is a trend that has been replete in law enforcement. So I challenge law enforcement to ask itself: when you see a car with a white gentleman at the wheel going down a street on your beat, what makes you either tail that car or pull that car over? Expired plates? Broken tail light? Plates on alert (e.g., stolen car)? Blew a stop sign? Speeding? Most likely, any obvious breaking of a law.

Why do you not give Blacks that same courtesy? Why do you think when you see a Black person where you don't think they belong (but last I checked, Blacks are free, by law, to travel wherever they please; I mean, "no Blacks here" signs are no longer legal — rectified in the '60s - right?), you immediately become suspicious and start tailing that person, if not pull them over so you can "ensure" they're OK — sure that they MUST be a criminal? That tendency is part of the problem you are seeing being protested about around the world today (what has been jokingly termed, driving while Black).

White Americans ... why do you think you need to call the police when you see 2 Black gentlemen jogging down the street in your neighborhood, when they haven't broken any laws? As stated above, there should no longer be laws on the books saying there are places Blacks by law are not able to enter. That includes a street in your neighborhood. And if they haven't broken a single law, again, what has moved you to call the police on them?

Or ... let me re-phrase that question: why do you feel threatened/unsafe by the presence of 2 Black men working out in the same residential workout space as you're working in? Because ... you're only supposed to call the police when you are in fear for your life, correct? Or when a crime is being committed. And those 2 gentlemen weren’t breaking any laws as they were tenants in that building with all rights to utilize that workout room…

What this time around made me see is that the problem is not Black America's so much as that White America is either afraid of Black America or finds them an offense, and thus wants them punished or destroyed. Because the other thing calling the cops on a person does is remove them from your presence, to hopefully be punished in some capacity, assured you will never see them again. And the system works in tandem with this fear or aversion, rather than striving to, for example, alleviate it by stopping rewarding it (by going along with the accusation and readily assuming guilt, rather than doing as the legal mandate of this country states which is innocent until PROVEN guilty).

And the "But what if THIS time…" argument doesn't work because you don't use this argument when a white male is the perpetrator; and in numbers, there are more white criminals than Black in America (though yes, in percentage of population, the ranking does shift). I just want you to ask yourself: why are you able to more readily forgive the wrongs of those who wear the same skin tone you do, but are so eager to see incarcerated (if not annihilated) those whose skin tone is Black? Or even better, how can you be so quick to categorize a wrong done by 1 Black person as a group characteristic, but do not give that same group characteristic to white folk when a white person commits said wrong?

It is these types of behaviors, that the system protects, that are so evil, so hurtful, and is America's scarlet letter.

A disclaimer:

1st, the created concepts (groupings) of Black America and White America are constructs and not reality. Each individual selected to make up each group will not have all the characteristics attributed to the group. So … not all white individuals are racists; not all black individuals are thugs. But rather, there are some thug white individuals, and there are some racist black individuals. Let’s learn that one 1st. So … my use of those terms above does take the aforementioned into consideration, and thus I am not indicating ALL white nor ALL Black individuals in America when I use those terms. In fact, I trust those who suffer from the items I pointed out above know who you are.

2nd, a problem with the written word is you leave it up to the reader to add their own emotional bent to the story. I wanted to inform any reader of my opine that my questions were not asked accusatorily or snidely, but are just questions to ask yourself to confront why you do the things you do and/or make the choices that you make in your interactions with black people. You will not be able to resolve anything without this step — this awareness, even understanding, of your why. It will be the most uncomfortable thing you may ever do, but change is rarely comfortable…

Jena Bellezza a resident of Crown Point and the chief operating officer for Indiana Parenting Institute, headquartered in Gary. The opinions are the writer's.

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