We’re definitely heading in the direction of a typical dictatorship now in which any form of protest is squashed.
Otherisation and discrimination also affect people whose bodies work differently.
I used to feel reserve when I saw someone in a wheelchair possibly running into a practical problem, but that’s been a long time ago.
I know that asking if I can help can offend, but it’s matter of measure, of knowing where someone’s boundaries are, and I haven’t encountered any friction with that in decades.
Sometimes, I merely observe and conclude “Nah, she is fine.” At other times, I ask something like “Can I help?” or “Need a hand?” and as soon as the person makes clear that he or she does not need any help, I move on.
The last thing I want to do is declare someone helpless. Because it isn’t about abilities. It’s about hindrances created by society and a lack of a willingness to accommodate for this type of diversity.
That one time when I saw that someone’s mobility scooter was threatening to topple because obstacles on the pavement forced the person to go onto the street, I didn’t ask whether he needed help. Plain logic tells you what to do. Grab the thing before it falls over. But don’t make an ass of yourself next.
Similarly, I once accompanied a woman who I saw hesitate outside a drug store. I asked if I could help. She said she wanted to get a few items but was worried it might take her too long as the shops would close soon and manoeuvring the aisles can be tricky because the displays are usually not positioned with wheelchairs and mobility scooters in mind. That time, I was really glad that I had decided to ask if I could help and that I didn’t let a fear of being rebuked or being experienced as intrusive stop me.
All these issues – of skin colour, ethnicity, abilities, gender, hair colour, sexuality etc – overlap.
Of course it is all simply about seeing each other as fellow human beings. That shouldn’t be so hard.
Why is that so hard? Because we are all merely human and all have our personal weaknesses and strengths and histories. We all do. But we can’t know what is the right thing to do unless we have conversations, no matter how awkward.
Yesterday, I made a quick video in response to the Derek Chauvin verdicts and got tangled up in all sorts of otherisation and discrimination traps. These issues are not straightforward and they are not separate, but occur across the entire human spectrum and as such are intertwined.
Issues of otherisation and discrimination are complex and that it isn’t merely only about skin colour.
Far too often, when white police officers kill black people, it is.
But their issues with fear, insularity, conditioning and guns need to be addressed too. In the video, I mention civilian gun ownership but, of course, whether police officers are armed or not goes hand in hand with that.
Proportionality has gone missing, too, in policing and a lot of that also has to do with racism and socioeconomic inequality.
I’ve talked about that in the past here in the UK. When I see that a poor sod is prosecuted because he stole a sandwich, while I know that rich and famous folks can get away with just about anything (think only Savile if you want a striking example ), I know that this is just about policing targets (numbers of arrests and numbers of successful prosecutions).
Successful prosecutions are much easier to obtain when you are dealing with poor sods, people who are not expected to be able to mount a useful defence in any kind of situation.
I used to work in tourism and hospitality. Counterfeit bills are a fact of life. Even if George Floyd did happen to pay for his groceries with a bill that happened to be a counterfeit bill, it did not warrant this utterly over-the-top response from the police. He was treated as if he had just murdered his wife or his child!
So that, too needs to be addressed. Proportionality in policing because it’s directly related to inequality, to otherisation and discrimination.
Otherisation begets otherisation and discrimination begets discrimination and erodes trust.
Otherisation and discrimination also lead to marginalisation and socioeconomic inequality, including the now so frequently mentioned health disparities.
I wish I had a magic solution. I don’t. But I can also see how we all learn from these struggles if we somehow manage to cross all the many chasms. Easier said than done.
Ever since the verdict, I’ve been wondering how this makes black people feel, not just in the US but also elsewhere. This afternoon, as I returned some library books, I walked by a bunch of black youngsters and I wondered if they were feeling any different. More at ease, more respected as human beings, perhaps. And safer? How about people in the US?
I think that we need to talk to one another, across the various artificial lines that we’ve drawn on the basis of ONE ASPECT of another person’s appearance.
Even for me, after over a year of lockdowns, experiencing a society that is slowly returning to what life used to be like is strange. It’s weird. It’s the only word I can come up with to describe it. Weird.
I am not the only one who feels this way!
We all learned a lot about what we value and what we’d rather not or no longer have in our lives.
Now we have to wait for the sentencing.
Meanwhile, the hard work is only starting. How did we ever get to the place that it was okay for white police officers to murder black men? It is not a straightforward matter.
At the heart of the issue seems to be not only fear and insularity among police officers as well as sheer racism but also civilian gun ownership.
I think we need more than a mere “reform” of police forces and I think we don’t only need that in the US. I think we need to start over.
But who has the guts and power to make it happen?
In a recent discussion organised by Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center, psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett mentioned a man who wrote to her about the moment when he almost shot a boy who was herding cattle, mistaking him for a guerrilla fighter. The example is also in her book ”Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain”.
The brain often makes us act on the basis of our experiences and the brain’s expectations and this plays a role in many, though not all, police shootings.
As former Baltimore judge and city solicitor Andre M. Davis explained during that same online meeting, policing is a very insular business.
These two factors can obviously form a lethal combination. My 15+ years in living in a country that is known for its insularity and my 10+ years in a small city that is known within that country for its fierce insularity have taught me a few things about insularity. Insularity colours people’s views and expectations greatly. And they’re rarely aware of this.
Adam Toledo, the 13-year-old boy who was fatally shot in Chicago on 29 March 2021, hardly had the time to comply with the police officer’s directions. That is, if he even heard those directions and if he heard them, if he heard more than a mere soup of vowels and consonants.
There is a lot of racism among police officers. But there is also a lot of fear among police officers in the US, a country where anyone can own a gun. I have seen this fear first-hand when I called police officers to my home in Florida in the mid 1990s, in the small city that shortly after exploded into riots after police officers shot 18-year-old Tyron Lewis during a traffic stop.
Racism, subconscious racial stereotyping (bias) and fear reinforce each other.
The brain of a police officer has one main biological function in many of the situations police officers encounter, namely to keep the police officer alive.
How do we break through these barriers? In the story of the man who almost shot a boy because he saw a long rifle instead of a shepherd’s stick, the hand that someone else put on his shoulder was enough. Years later, he was still so rattled about the incident that he contacted to Lisa Feldman Barrett about it.
How do you reset a police officer’s brain in that split second before he or she shoots someone?
We’re literally talking a fraction of a second here that can make the difference. That’s obviously very challenging.
This, of course, is apart from the question whether you should allow civilians to own guns because one of the results of the right to keep and bear arms is that police officers kill citizens out of fear that those civilians will shoot them unless the officers shoot first. That’s what their brains tell them.
It is also beside the obvious point that bridges need to be built that cross differences in skin tone and ethnicity. Because let’s face it, subconsciously expecting black or Hispanic people to be more dangerous is as ridiculous as expecting blond or grey-eyed people to be more dangerous.
And if we can overcome that, then we’re dissolving socioeconomic and health disparities at the same time.
How do you apply the bioethical imperative when you’re the target of someone who is often highly disruptive, highly manipulative, highly destructive and highly sadistic and to whom you’re no more than a rabbit in a lab cage? To whom you are a thing to be toyed with rather than a person?
“All living beings are entitled to respect and should be treated not as means but as ends in themselves.”
Generally speaking, by making sure that all children grow up safe, well-fed and well looked after, for starters. So that their brains have the chance to develop in a healthy balanced manner. And by contributing as much as possible towards making that happen.
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