Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Black Lives and White Feelings: Marathon Edition

People are freaking out about the planned Black Lives Matter protest at the Twin Cities Marathon.  Apparently to interfere with the sacred completion of a race is an affront to human decency the likes of which has never been seen in recorded history.

Is this the protest I would choose if it were up to me?  Probably not, mostly because of the inherent dangerousness of a marathon as an activity, especially at the end when people need to cool down and have a disturbing tendency to drop dead.  And I would probably also avoid messing with a marathon because of the Boston terrorist attack.  But it isn't up to me.  I'm not Black.  I'm not really part of the movement.  I don't live in the Twin Cities.

But it is counterproductive to talk about the protestors as though they're threatening to burn St. Paul to the ground and hear the lamentations of their women.  People are saying the protesters will make the event unsafe or cause violence. You could make a similar safety argument against almost any protest or activity that involves large numbers of people and road closures.  I don't see a lot of people bitching about the Pope on Facebook.  And it is very rare for daytime protests to turn violent.  Usually it's not the protestors that start it, either.

But I don't think it's really about the safety.  I think you're upset because they might ruin your big day, the race you've been training for for months. You feel like they're punishing you for something that isn't your fault by wrecking something you've been looking forward to, something that's important to you.  That's unfortunate.  It makes me sad for you.  You say this is no way to win over hearts and minds, but there are occasions when your feelings may not be the only factor worth considering.

Why do you suppose they chose to protest something people care about?  Against something that has economic value, tourism value, civic value?  Could it be because the government isn't going to rein in the police until it becomes too much expense and too much trouble not to?  Could it be because that's how our country works?  Could it be that in our society, it's all about money and bad publicity, mostly money?  That reality wasn't created by Black Lives Matter.  Neither was a screwed up police culture that our politicians can't be bothered to do anything about.  That's on all of us.

To you, the marathon is personal.  To the movement, it's an economic and political event, a rare opportunity to apply pressure to the few people who can actually make something happen.  You know what else is personal?  Dead Black bodies in the street on the regular, and no one held accountable.  Getting humiliated by the police with no recourse.  That's personal, too.

Like I said, I'm not saying it's necessarily a good idea to get in the way of 12,000 runners.  I honestly do not know.  I'm saying you need to be aware that the people on the other side also have strong feelings, feelings born of genuine fear and grief over the real dangers they and their loved ones face on a daily basis.  Feelings that might prompt them to make a decision that to you seems hurtful.  Feelings that you cannot fully understand.  And it is important to consider how your choice of words about the protest might be perceived as dismissive of the value of Black lives rather than just an expression of your feelings.

Perhaps you might consider how it feels to have a black son who is a head taller than most all his classmates, who will probably look like a man by the end of 5th grade.  Because when I read lengthy, vitriolic complaints about protests, it feels like people think a marathon or their Christmas shopping or the game day traffic are more important than my child's life.  I know that isn't what you mean.  But it is how it feels.  If that's how it feels to me, a white woman with tons of white friends and white relatives and an incentive to give you the benefit of the doubt, how do you suppose it might feel to actual Black people?

If white people had half as much passion about police brutality and systemic racism as they do when complaining about Black Lives Matter, we might not need Black Lives Matter in the first place.  


  1. Thanks for joining as an ally. Point of clarification, the event Sunday is the Twin Cities marathon; the Minneapolis marathon is held in June.

  2. Well said. I'm always amazed at the crap some people believe are real problems. Living near ferguson, and having family living even closer than I do, I'm always shocked that the white citizens of Missouri can be so willfully blind to the struggles of everyone else, and I do mean everyone.

    It boils down to rampant cultural narcissism. Did I say that out loud? Okay, well as long as I said it. The quality of mercy is strained, Sorry Bill. At least, it is now. Western society has a self-involvement problem. Unless the wolf is knocking at our door, we don't worry about the world beyond it. I'm trying to be a realist, but it's coming out cynical. Sigh.