Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, “secondly.”
As St. Louis continues to grapple with the aftereffects of the Stockley verdict, I have followed the articles and commentary from a variety of sources, both liberal and conservative. One aspect of the negative feedback that stands out to me is how many people have started the narratives with "secondly." Detractors narrowly focus on the details of this specific case without considering the greater issues that the protesters are attempting to address. They discuss case law and precedent without weighing it against the systemic disadvantages put into place to make sure that the system only worked well for specific groups of individuals. To do this is to do a disservice to all those who are simply asking to be able to enjoy the equitable treatment in our society.
Any conversation of race (or solution to racial issues) must trace all the way back to slavery. The reason is that we have not corrected the attitudes, systems, and societal disadvantages put in place during this egregious period in our history. In schools, we teach a history that mentions slavery almost as a sidebar, but doesn't show how essential slavery was to the development of all major cities and institutions, how African Americans were dehumanized to justify the chattel slavery system, and how the American intellect, psyche, and moral code were corrupted as a result of reinforcing this dehumanization. We gift the majority with stories of their ancestors as heroes and innovators, conquerors and academics, while omitting the African civilizations that traded with, educated, and influenced these Middle Eastern and European nations.
Today, as I watch the news reports and process comments that people make in response to incidences that impact minority populations, I realize that many privileged people begin their analysis with "secondly." They view the results without analyzing or researching the true causes. They are able to remain in a state of partial understanding because racism rarely impacts their lives. The great majority of white people live in homogeneous environments where everyone they have intimate relationships with looks like them. We have to move to a point where people care because they should, not because they are impacted, and where people seek to understand because that's what is right, even if inconvenient.
Let's start the story with "first."