Dear OWS: Welcome to Our World

Police brutality experienced by the movement is nothing new in the black community.

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Apparently I struck a chord.

Many people — black, white, Hispanic, all kinds of folks — read it and said, “At least somebody said it.” People tweeted thank you to me for saying what they were feeling. People expressed that this was their issue with the OWS movement as a whole.

As. A. Whole.

I’m someone who supports Occupy Wall Street. I didn’t write that tweet in an attempt to undermine the cause or to belittle the suffering of those who have been victims of the police. I wrote it to highlight the fact that these issues aren’t new. Abuse of this kind is all too familiar to the black community. If someone hasn’t directly experienced it, they probably know someone who has.

There have been discussions as to why there aren’t more blacks involved in the Occupy movement. I can’t speak for all of them, but I can speak about what I’ve read and the folks I’ve talked to directly about this. The type of outrage that pops up now at what many of us have lived with on a regular basis for years feels insulting.

It’s hard not to notice that once the right number of white folks are affected, people want to take to the street. Unemployment numbers are high? We’ve had high unemployment for years. People are living in or near the poverty line? Yeah — we know.

When minorities speak up and say there is an issue, we are told maybe we are doing something wrong. Perhaps we are targeted by the police because of what we are wearing. Perhaps we don’t look for jobs the right way. Maybe we aren’t educated enough. But now that it’s affecting other folks, now there’s a problem. Now we need to come together and fight the power. Someone tweeted at me that we need to come together and not point out silly differences like race because we’re in this together!

Ah.

Yes, we can — and have (there is support from various folks of color) — come together within this movement, but you can’t expect us to throw away “race” and ignore history. Even the violence that’s happening with the Occupiers right now is looked at differently because of race. You can’t be surprised that people have reservations about this when you look at how our issues have been dealt with before.

I’m not making an argument for ignoring the movement because a lot of the movement ignored us. But I am saying take a moment to walk away from your righteousness to understand that your newfound plight has been some people’s plight for generations.

We just didn’t have a catchy name for it.

Elon James White is a writer-comedian and the host of the award-winning Web series This Week in Blackness and the Internet radio show Blacking It Up. Follow him on Twitter.

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