Chris Churchill Saves the World | The Right to Be Ignored
By Chris Churchill
Here in America, we have a lot of rights written into the Constitution. You can own bear arms. Your church can speak to the media. The media can speak about church. You can bring your own snacks into the movies. It’s all in there.
There are also basic human rights that don’t always make it into the founding documents of any particular nation. Controlling your own body. Having a good quality of life. Bringing your own snacks into a hospital.
There’s one right that I don’t hear enough people talking about.
Here’s another one I never hear people talking about: The right to be left alone. The right to be completely ignored.
You know what’s a really nice part of white privilege? Going anywhere at all without getting odd looks or being suspected of maybe thinking about committing a crime. It’s nice. You kind of forget all about it sometimes, when you’re white. I assume a lot of white people never ever think of it. Because they don’t have to. It doesn’t come up.
I see that right ignored for black people all the time. (Of course, I only notice this because I pay too much attention to everyone else.) I don’t even mean it in the following-them-around-the-department-store kind of way. I mean, just in the everyday, on the street, on the sidewalk, in the bathroom, or at the movies kind of way.
Here comes a black guy on the sidewalk. Better smile and make sure he knows you like black people.
Here comes a black woman at the store. Better make sure you’re quick to do some polite gesture to show her you like black people.
That kind of thing.
Once, I drove a trolley for a pub crawl. It was a birthday party. A bunch of white people and one black guy; their “black friend.” At first, I thought, Cool. The younger generation really doesn’t even think about race anymore. That’s awesome. I found out quickly that I was wrong. All night long, I kept hearing the same white “friend” of the black man making jokes about racism in that sort of Seth MacFarland, “Is it racism or making fun of racism?” sort of way. The references to his race seemed to be the only way he could make conversation with him. I could only imagine how tiring this must be.
“Yeah, man. White people and black people are different. But we’re cool.”
In the previous three examples, if it was a perfect world, wouldn’t the black people have been ignored or at least treated no differently than their white counterparts?
Some people feel the need to constantly acknowledge the supposed other’s otherness. I get it. For some white people, they’re only a generation or two removed from the stinking smog of their parents’ or grandparents’ racism. They are still relieved that they can have a relationship with a person of color but they haven’t quite gotten to the part where they learn how to be a friend to a person of color. The simple trick, “Treat them like another human,” seems to slip by a lot of people.
So why the extra time spent wondering how they might react, what they’re thinking, or what they’re doing? Sometimes, we maybe worry too much about that. Maybe going out of our way to acknowledge them, smile at them, affirm that we’re cool with them — maybe that’s assuming a lot about them.
Even if you’re smiling and laughing, it’s okay to turn away from their picnic in the park if you weren’t invited.
Maybe that’s projecting the idea that they feel differently about you. Maybe we’re worrying too much about controlling their reactions to us. And that’s kind of invasive on a spiritual level.
Relax. Act like a regular person. Not someone who’s trying not to get in trouble.
All people have a right to be left alone.
Black lives matter even when they’re none of your business.