protester in Minneapolis carries an American flag upside down
Photo credit: Julio Cortez/Associated Press

If you grew up in the 80’s and 90’s – or earlier – you may remember Larry Kramer. For those of us who are in or friends with members of the LGBTQ+ Community, we know Larry Kramer as an HIV/AIDS activist who founded, among other organizations, ACT UP! We all have that crazy uncle who doesn’t care what they say, and Larry was the LGBTQ+ community’s crazy uncle.

I recently saw a picture of him wearing a t-shirt in his latter days. The t-shirt reads (and excuse the vulgarities) “I can’t believe I still have to protest this f*cking sh*t!” He was referring to HIV/AIDS, but the sentiment applies to seemingly everything these days.

Another Person of Color – an African American man named George Floyd – is dead. George Floyd was killed in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department by a police officer exerting excessive pressure on his neck while Floyd was lying on the ground, hands cuffed behind his back, pleading for his life.

I can’t believe I still have to protest this f*cking sh*t.

The list of Persons of Color who have been killed, abused, suspected, and/or discriminated against is massive and incomplete. And were I to try to find an emotion to express when I read it, I couldn’t possibly choose between anger, depression, outrage, sadness, or despair. The list seems to continue to grow and, for some incredible reason, we (those of us who have privilege) seem to be OK with it, even annoyed that we need to be aware of it; we seem to not mind watching the list continue to add victims to its role.

And while we watch this list of people who have been mistreated for nothing other than living their lives grow, we sit back and justify, complain, or criticize when they demand justice and change. Are the protests which are happening now justified and appropriate? Yes. Does the burning and looting of stores help to bring back lives or bring justice? No, but it does – or at least should – open our eyes.

I can’t believe I still have to explain this f*cking sh*t.

Look no further than the “protests” of mostly white Americans who don’t want to isolate at home and wear masks in public to help stop the spread of the corona virus. They stood on street corners in clear violation of the law, in some states (read: Michigan) they stormed the state capital – with guns – and screamed into the faces of police officers and none of them were arrested or thrown to the ground, hand cuffed, and had their necks compressed by the knee of a police officer. George Floyd was suspected of forging a check.

When a person who is socially and economically disadvantaged looks at the disparity in reaction between these two situations, how else should we expect that group to react? It’s in our history. I remember, from my history textbooks, the first great protest in America by a group who saw how they were economically disadvantaged and were being mistreated by the government. They rioted – a big thing in their day – and unfortunately damage was done to property and business owners lost money that day. If I remember correctly, it was in Boston, in the harbor, and cases of tea were tossed into the water to protest “taxation without representation.” (Side note: If you’re upset about the protesters wearing masks to conceal their identity today, remember the rioters in Boston dressed up as Native Americans to conceal their identity.)

Now, you may be saying the Boston Tea “Party” (we’ve sanitized the name of the riot) was nothing like the events of today. Really? A group of people who were being mistreated by their government, for nothing more than just living their lives, chose, after attempting peaceful means to right the wrongs, to disrupt the status quo – to dismantle the very image of privilege and oppression in their day – and destroy property to draw attention to their plight and their demands for equality. How was that patriotic then? And how today, when groups of people – who are being killed, not just taxed unfairly – dismantle the images of privilege and oppression, is that not patriotic?

Vandalizing, looting, and burning down a grocery store might not bring back the life of George Floyd, but it should disrupt your daily life enough to cause you to think of the root cause of his death. If you’re upset about not being able to buy groceries, but not upset that a human being was killed by another human being – and that it happens constantly, day in, day out – then burning down the grocery store might be appropriate if it will make you think about something outside of your comfort zone.

Larry Kramer disrupted the lives of the comfortable and the healthy by protesting for increased research and treatments for HIV/AIDS. Often, ACT UP would storm into churches and blow whistles and stage “die ins” during services. They would throw fake blood onto buildings and sometimes people to personalize the struggles of those who were sick to those who didn’t seem to care. When protesters today close down freeways and destroy property, that is their way of personalizing the struggles of those who are dying because of their skin color to those of us who are comfortable and don’t seem to be affected. Those Americans who threw crates of tea into Boston Harbor found a way to personalize their struggles to those who benefited from the high taxes.

Protest and disruption are an American tradition and deeply ingrained in our national psyche. If you found yourself to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable watching the protests of the last couple of days, good. Think about why? Was it because “thugs” were destroying property and making it difficult for you to get around? Or was it because Persons of Color are accused, suspected, criticized, and even killed everyday because of their skin color? If it’s the latter, good. If it’s the former …

I can’t believe I still have to protest this f*cking sh*t.

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