As of writing this piece it’s the late May, early June of 2020. If you’ve been reading the news, it must seem like the United States is on fire, or at least about to explode. Amidst a global pandemic, the unlawful, lethal police brutality used against a black man, has sparked countless people to gather in protest not just the incident, but the whole system that allows these incidents to keep happening. In many cities (my home city of Portland, Oregon included) these protests have turned into violent rioting and looting. Of course, social media has gone insane. There’s finger pointing, theories on why and how, a huge amount of disinformation being passed around, but underneath it all is the same idea: This is not normal. Our lives have been disrupted, and everyone wants to know why, how, and how to fix it (or point the blame at someone). Well, I got news for all of you, this IS normal. This is the United States of America, and we’ve been like this for a long time. Don’t believe me? Think we’re a moral, upstanding, peaceful people, and that these rabble rousers and just outliers looking to cause trouble? That’s sadly not true.
We are founded on protests turned violent
Hey, remember in history class how we learned that our nation was founded when the various colonies collectively decided that the logistical and administrative cost of being colonies to a nation on the other side of the world were too high and they should just form their own nation? And then the controlling Crown at the time responded, “Yeah, those are great arguments, have at it and let’s set up some trade deals.” Oh no wait. That other thing. It turned into an armed conflict. Here’s the fun part, it didn’t start as an armed conflict. It started as protests.
I’m not condoning the violence that’s been happening, but if a society hears the same glorified tale of rising up over oppression and marginalization, then some of it’s going to stick. And oh boy does it stick. Collectively, America’s societal response to having their rights taken away, stepped on, or otherwise infringed upon is protests or riots, often both. Which brings us to the second point I want to make:
We are a society of selfish jackasses
Way back in fourth or fifth grade I had a teacher decide the best way to teach us about the American Civil War was to split the class in half and have each half “debate” the other on a specific side of the war. (In case anyone is wondering, no there were no black children in that class, or school if my memory of recess serves). So there we were, the side of the class representing the “North” arguing civil rights, basic human decency, and the moral fiber of the nation, and the side representing the “South” arguing economics (no we didn’t understand it in those terms. The cut of our arguments were “Slavery Bad!” and “Money Good!”). Finally one “South” kid yells out, “Well, this is how we live.” And the teacher wholeheartedly supported that argument, “No one has a right to tell someone else how to live.” It makes sense, it’s freedom, it’s the American way; it bothered the hell out of fourth grade me in a way I couldn’t articulate back then.
It turns out we do have the fucking right to tell other people how to live their lives. If your way of life involves owning other humans as property, then everyone else absolutely has a right to tell you to cut it the fuck out. We fought a goddamn war over it. There are, in fact, limits to freedom, and most of them involve limiting the freedom of other people; like say, making them slaves.
The problem is the whole, “Well my way of life is the only one that matters,” mentality hasn’t stopped. The American Civil War didn’t stop it, my fourth grade history class didn’t stop it. And that brings me to my final point:
This Happens with Alarming Frequency
Even checking modern American history (Post 1950s) we can see we have countless marches, protests, and yes, even a few riots. This isn’t the first time our parents have experienced this type of thing, and this isn’t the last time we’re going to experience these types of events. This is America, and this is going to keep happening over and over until we finally learn from our mistakes and solve the problem.
Normal Is the Problem
Protestors and rioters are in the minority. The majority of people just want things to go back to normal, the way things were before all the violence broke out. And that’s the problem, they all push to bring things back to normal, not realizing what normal means.
Normal means my black friends are afraid to go out due to police profiling and brutality.
Normal means my friends with minimum wage jobs have to keep going to work in unsafe conditions during a pandemic.
Normal means that despite coming out as genderqueer over a year ago, I’m still too afraid to show my feminine side in public.
Normal means hundreds of families are caged with no hope of freedom for simply fleeing from danger.
Normal means thousands die of starvation, exposure, or preventable medical issues while the same people keep getting put into power.
Normal means everyone puts their blinders back on, ignores all the problems happening around them, and pretend everything is fine because they aren’t personally affected. Until things boil over the next time.
Normal is terrible. Normal is so terrible that it’s normal for people to become violent in an effort to change what’s considered normal. If you want this to stop, if you want live a peaceful, quiet life, where your worst problem is what game to play in the evening, then join the rest of us. Fight against normal. Fight to change things for the better. Americans have a long history of standing up when normal becomes too brutal for someone, and we’re going to keep doing until “normal” means everyone is safe.