Oscar Grant III.
Google his name, if you need to, and then get back to me.
Another young black man killed in police custody. This time it was in the wee hours of the new year, in a subway station I’ve ridden through since high school. The evidence that he was (a) unarmed, and (b) shot through the back, while he was on his stomach, is clearly overwhelming. Â Witness cellphone video accounts were on the internet within hours of the shooting.
In the pre-dawn hour this morning, after my four-year-old daughter slipped into our bed after a nightmare, I could not stop thinking about young Mr. Grant, and the fact that his daughter is the exact same age as mine. Â Years from now, they very well could show up to the same stadium for a high school ball game (our school districts are adjacent). Â If I knew more about his family, I’d say they could also very well show up to the same large hall for a college entrance exam. Â Maybe one will be short a sharpened #2 pencil, and the other will have an extra to lend.
Later this morning, when my son was done with his pre-dawn nursing and had crawled over to cuddle with me, I held him, and continued to think about Oscar Grant. Â In another twenty years, when my son grows to be as old as Mr. Grant was when he was shot, there will be one humungous, consequential difference between the two of them. Â Even if my son is involved in a brawl on a subway train following a New Year’s celebration, and he is among those rounded up and cuffed on a subway platform, unarmed and face down, after all that, he will be white and face down, not black.
There is analogy, and there is equivalency. I hold fast to the critical value of analogy as a means of opening up understanding. Â Frankly, it was the lack of a suitable analogy that made it so hard for my dad — an able-bodied, financially comfortable, non-Jewish white male — to understand what living under misogyny was like for my sister and me. Â I wracked my brains for years, trying to find a way for him to get it, viscerally. Â Likewise, it was the experience of direct analogy that enabled my mother — a Â non-Jewish white woman of very modest means, raised by a divorced mother — to feel a sense of compassionate connection with the working class black girls at Berkeley High in the 1930s. Â They saw her show up to school with the same few dresses, saw her be teased/ underestimated/ ignored for that and for being fat. Â And by analogy, they connected. Black girls were among the few friends our mother had in high school, and she never let us forget it.
Analogy means: one is like unto another. Â That’s what our kids will be puzzling out in the logical reasoning part of their college entrance exams: if A is to B in this way, then C is to D in that way. Â But it does not mean one is equivalent to another. Â So while I genuinely believe that all struggles for civil rights and recognitions are part of the same larger fabric — in fact must be seen so; each one learns from, builds on, and ideally helps strengthen the other — there is no question that some strands have way, way more blood on them.
Not like I agree with Mike Huckabee that an aggrieved group needs to be subjected to genocide (Middle Passage, centuries of chattel slavery) or systematic violence from the state’s individual arm (police) to earn or deserve civil rights. Â I’m just saying. Â In the early morning hours, when I’m holding my two children close to me, and about ten miles south of me, Oscar Grant’s family is still in shock and weeping every day, I come as close as I can to knowing the difference.