I went this morning to San Francisco to participate in a
solidarity action in support of the awesome climate justice activists who
traveled to Paris to influence the world wide gathering on climate destruction
being concurrently held there.
I almost didn’t go to this action, thinking my body
wouldn’t really be needed as there are tons of committed green people in the
Bay that get it, who know we need to act quickly and act now to prevent the
total destruction of the planet, who will show up.
And I also wanted have enough time to go to the evening
protest against, yes, another police assassination of a Black man. But this
one’s in Berkeley so easier to get to.
When I arrive at Montgomery and Market, I’m saddened to see
there are only about 20 or so people on the street protesting. The sun is
brilliant, the air neither hot nor cold, a good flow of pedestrian traffic, the
bulk of the rush hour madness mostly over.
Folks are holding up a beautiful large banner with a sleeping
T-Rex skeleton and bold words declaring “Stop Climate Change: Keep Fossil Fuels
in the Ground”; and others carry signs declaring “Climate Justice Now” in
English and French.
A few people are handing out small white quarter page
info sheets to the public and most passersby hustle quickly along, ignoring
everyone while a couple take flyers and some even give thumbs up.
Typical largely apathetic u.s.ofa. public sidewalk
Then someone began passing around miniature bumper
stickers of the blue, white and red (in that order, we are instructed) French
flag which we are directed to place over our mouths: symbolic for the current
ban on protesting the French government instituted, using the recent bombings
that occurred in Paris last month as the excuse for this silencing of dissent.
I refuse, explaining that I despise flags, especially the
French flag being the symbol of so much genocide, murder, rape, oppression,
exploitation historically and presently. I’ve been to Senegal, I have friends
from Haiti, my eyes are wide open.
The tall, gangly white male next to me also refuses the
flag. He turns to me and declares, with a wave of long pasty fingers, he doesn’t
care about those things, he just thinks the stickers are not environmentally
He doesn’t leave it there. He is disturbed because he
wants to mourn the people of France without certain people pointing out his
racism embedded in that concern. He thinks it’s horrific that people were
murdered and he wants me to support his feelings.
I retort that of course it is horrific people were
murdered in France but his concern is based on white people’s lives mattering
more than everyone else’s, that is what is objectionable and racist.
But he still can’t leave it there and protests that it is
‘natural’ for him to be more concerned about the people of France than the
people of Sudan or Somalia. He’s been to France, he loves Paris, he feels
connected to them.
Yes, I say, because of racism: racism is what makes you
feel part of those French white people, value white people, enables you to
sympathize and feel compassion for whites – while ignoring the atrocities these
people have and still engage in.
He keeps trying to convince me that his caring more about
people in France doesn’t spring from racism. I keep countering his arguments.
He thinks he’s switching gears when he says with such
authority surely I can’t help but agree: “but if my son was walking down the
street and was injured, I would feel so much more strongly about his pain, his
experience, his hurt so naturally in the same way I’d feel more for French
Ah, he has so very plainly stated the kernel of racism
from which his compassion flows – or doesn’t flow. I also assume from his
statement his child is white. I think it is so clear and getting clearer to see
his racism and I try again.
So you see French people as family, as your relations, as
people you care about. And you don’t see the children of Sudan or Iraq or
Brazil as your family, your relations, people close to you. That is exactly
what people are calling you on when you value French people so much more than
Black and brown people around the world and here even.
I end the conversation there, pointing out there really
is no need to delve deeper – that’s as deep as it gets.
The air has suddenly grown colder and we are now
blanketed momentarily in grey: the heavens open and we stand in awe as we are
engulfed in precious rain which here-to-fore has been a mere memory in the Bay.