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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

We’re talking about this wrong

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In conversations that I have heard over the past few weeks, the question “What do you think about Baltimore?” tends to beget the response, “I think it was a good cause but I don’t agree with the violence.” That response identifies the Baltimore protests with the violence that has taken place there, a tendency that is common here at Carleton and in many other places where most people have no personal experience with racism. I have a problem with that response; or rather, a problem with the way we’ve been taught to think that pushes many decent people to give that response.

Here at Carleton, the problem is that we are grasping at straws to avoid talking about the root causes, which are systemic inequities, and systemic problems generally, with our justice system. Most people making public statements about the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement are aware of the statistics about unequal rates of incarceration, the tendency for Black people to be pulled up more often for offenses that they are no more likely to commit, the tendency for our law enforcement to get violent far too easily. We know these things, but they make us uncomfortable, and we don’t like to talk about them. This is hardly unique to Carleton; it’s happening all over the place, especially in the mainstream media. Even Obama used the same tactic to avoid wholeheartedly supporting the protests. And so people try to divert our attention by saying instead how terrible it is that people are breaking windows.

Why does this make us uncomfortable? Because we hate acknowledging privilege. We hate acknowledging the nagging feeling that we enjoy advantages that other people don’t have. Very very few of us on this campus have experienced racially biased violence like what triggered the Baltimore protests. I’m glad that people have not had to deal with that, but a part of that privilege is that we cannot claim to understand the anger that is present during protests like those going on. That anger is not at one incident, it is at years and years of systemic inequity, inequities that benefit people that are not Black. Coming from where we are, we have no right to condemn that anger. Until we fix systemic sources of violence against Black people, we can’t complain about broken windows. When somebody asks “what do you think about Baltimore?” the appropriate response would be “I’m glad that the protests have drawn attention to the problems with our justice system, and I think they should be fixed.” And it should end there.

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