Tuesday, February 18, 2014

#NeverLovedUs

#NeverLovedUs is a hashtag that summarizes the experience of black and brown young people. It is being disseminated by Philip Agnew and the Dream Defenders in the wake of the Michael Dunn trial for the murder of Jordan Davis.

This country never loved black and brown young people, never valued their lives, presumed that they were a menace to society -- criminal. As though there an uncountable surplus of them that could be wasted or misused.

I am struck now by how the language of love comes to the fore. The opposite of love is indifference, and the Stand Your Ground laws are the very institutionalization of indifference to the deaths of young people of color. They bring into the very structure of the law, institutionalizing it, a declaration of values: the law will accommodate the racial fears of white people; while the law is indifferent to the deaths of people of color. Better that Jordan Davis, a black student, die, says the law, than that Michael Dunn, a white man, be afraid, or be inhibited about telling strangers how loud they are permitted to play music in their own cars.

It is hard to imagine the institutionalization of love as a social norm. It is hard to imagine a social order where #neverlovedus would be a meaningless phrase. But surely, it would start with a legal system that values the lives of all of its people, that is not indifferent to some. That's not a mushy sentimentality. Legally, it is the principle that all are entitled to the equal protection of the law.

But "equality" is an abstraction, an ideal with which we have little concrete experience. Nothing, after all, is ever equal to anything else in life. But we do know love, what it is to be loved at some level; at least, most of us do. That is why #neverlovedus is so challenging, so poignant, so sad, and so true. One cannot respond to "#neverlovedus" with a declaration in favor of "equality" or fair law enforcement or a more nuanced doctrine of justifiable self-defense. You have to go deeper, down to the emotional level, to that battle between love and indifference that rages in all of us, and try there to take your place on the side of love.

No comments: