This is an article I’ve been meaning to write for a long time, but I’ve shied away from it because the subject matter is challenging, maybe depressing, and definitely angering to many people. I’ve gotten a lot of advice about running this blog and our social media pages that basically amounts to “Be upbeat! Be funny! Don’t talk about sad stuff!” But that’s not how you get the world to change. Upbeat and funny is a distraction, a fluff piece on a middle school dog show on the 6 o’clock news, while real news goes unreported.
In the original manifeasto, which is still available to read on this blog, I talk about the contributions of thousands or even millions of people I will never meet. Strangers from all over the country who bought a sweater or a movie ticket and paid a few cents of tax on those items contribute to the roads that the apples travel over, so that I can buy apples at my local grocery store and make a pie. I’ve always believed that it’s not my pie, it’s our pie. Just because I assemble it doesn’t give me the right to hoard it to myself.
That’s all well and good. I’ve gotten pretty far in the last two years with the simple idea that sharing is good and people like pie.
But there’s more. There are people in this country, and in our world, who are consistently denied pie. There are people who are told they don’t deserve pie, or they have to wait for the leftovers after more important people have taken the first pick. There are people who have been contributing to the system their whole lives, picking apples or building roads, who have never so much as tasted an apple pie.
And it’s not an accident that there are people who have less pie or no pie. There are deeply rooted structures in place that determine who gets pie and who does not. There are laws about it. There are insidious social cues that inform how people feel about pie, and how people feel about other people with no pie.
The biggest reason is racism, and the worst form of racism at work in the US today is anti-black racism.
Take a look at my story from the road trip, about picking a fight with a police officer in Oklahoma City – http://pieitforward.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/cops-and-comic-book-geeks-in-okc/
Now look at news stories about Mike Brown from Ferguson Missouri, who was murdered in broad day light by a police officer. My white skin protected me even as I was screaming at a cop, but Mike Brown’s blackness insured that the police officer would believe him to be guilty of something, anything, and could shoot to kill.
Did you know that during the whole road trip of 12,000 miles, we were only pulled over twice? Once was in the state of Washington, where a state trooper wanted to warn us about elk in the area. We had a headlight out, and he was concerned for our safety. The other time was in Washington DC, when an officer told us our side mirrors were too small, and to please purchase extenders for them. No tickets. No searches. Again, my white skin protected me.
And here’s a story about how Levar Burton, beloved host of Reading Rainbow and star of Star Trek the Next Generation, responds to getting pulled over, because he is black in America – http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/07/02/2245561/levar-burton-explains-how-he-prevents-violence-when-hes-racially-profiled/
When I was in high school, I got bullied a lot because I was a religious minority. I often flippantly referred to myself as “The Lone Jew” but humor was one of my coping mechanisms. When the school police liaison heard that ever day after school, I had to play a real-life version of “Frogger” as I dodged boys who were trying to run me over with their cars and trucks in the parking lot, he elected himself my personal bodyguard. He drove me home for weeks, while he dealt with the boys on school grounds. No doubt he did this partially because he liked me, but also because I was white and young – I was valuable.
Now read about how a police officer in Oklahoma City targeted older black women and raped them – http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/09/06/3564082/cop-who-allegedly-assaulted-7-black-women-released-from-jail/
There are more examples. Every day you can learn about them, if you’re listening to the right people.
It would be easy to keep Pie It Forward a fun, fluffy project about giving people pie. But that wouldn’t change anything. We want change. We want our project to inspire people to think about who’s labor they rely on and who gets the first slice of their own pies.
To put it another way, it’s been 54 years since the sit ins at the Greensboro lunch counters. And while black people may have won the right to sit at the lunch counter, white people have largely responded with disrespectful service, sub standard food, and by moving the entire lunch counter to an all white suburb where bus lines don’t run and cops pull over black people for looking suspicious.
As a white person, I have the option of sitting back and doing nothing, and continuing to live my fairly comfortable life, free from police harassment. As a white person, I can apply for food assistance and have people pat me on the back and say “Things will turn around soon.” As a white person, even when I’m poor and living in my car, people will come up to me and ask me for directions. My skin color has not been associated with crime, low levels of education, and fear. People who don’t know me will assume I am educated and peaceful unless I do something to change that perception, and even if I commit a violent crime, I will be described as “troubled but gifted.”
Black people, and other marginalized people in America, do not have the option of sitting back and doing nothing. Every day they are on display. Everywhere they go, their actions are judged. Even in death, they are not permitted to rest.
As white people, we can do better. We MUST do better.
One of our mottos here at Pie It Forward is “Kindness, generosity, equality.” What we mean by that is “Kindness TO the most overlooked members of society, generosity FROM the most comfortable members of society, equality FOR the most oppressed and the most in need.” We’re not here to be fluffy. We’re not here to give out platitudes or warm fuzzies. We’re here to feed peoples’ bodies and souls, and change the way the pie is distributed.