In nearly 10 years of writing this column I've never had a piece go viral. To say I'm stunned by the reach of this last one is an understatement in the same way that "all lives matter" is a myth, but more on that in a minute. My shock is in no small part due to the incredible email, PMs and comments I've received in response to "How to be an interrupter," and I have to address this.
When I filed that piece, I braced myself for the usual burst of hateful email that predictably follows my columns on race, racism and white privilege. I've tackled these issues a lot over the years, and I did get the standard four or five confederate-flag-draped, woman-hating emails. (I resisted the urge this time to write back with nothing but the original content corrected for grammar and punctuation.)
What I hadn't anticipated were the many deeply moving emails that left me ugly-crying multiple times. The largest percentage of messages were from black readers who openly shared the most personal stories and rawest pain that is a fundamental, if invisible-to-most-white-people, part of the black American experience. It's such a privilege, I think, to be let in like that. I am humbled.
My editor has seen these emails, and I've explicitly urged him (twice) to run them. I don't know if he can do that, as space is limited in what is first and foremost a print publication. Whatever he chooses to do, make no mistake: There is not any fair and balanced in these emails; no equal amounts pro and con. There is PRO and there is con.
I intend to answer all of those emails, but I've felt like I've been tossed from a boat into a Class VI rapid. I'll get to them, though, because you, who wrote of shielding your daughter a little longer, while doling out the reality pills to your older son; you, who wrote of the awful night you were assaulted in a crowd and not a single person stopped to ask if you were okay; you, who worries each time your husband leaves the house that he may not come back; you and you and you who have degrees and social status and respectable tone and appropriate deference white America demands above all else and none of it matters a damn; you, who sent me a simple cyber-dap—you all deserve a thoughtful response. Your tears brought me to tears. You, good people, are my compass points, and why I'm not going to devote 850 precious words to a fluff piece right now.
Instead, and finally to my point from paragraph one, I'm going to question why the Boston Globe devoted 839 words to the story of a funeral for a white girl named Baby Doe, an unknown child whose body was found in a trash bag on Deer Island, Mass., in June. Accompanying the story is a computer-photo of a glassy-eyed, chubby-cheeked cherub as adorable as the ubiquitous, white heteronormative Disney princess or Pixar heroine. (How hard is it, animators, to make a brown protagonist? Is the imagination only so big?) According to the Globe article, this invented image has been viewed more than 56.3 million times, just slightly more than the number of people demanding justice for Cecil, because #AllLionsMatter.
Lots of people apparently care deeply about Baby Doe. In fact, the Massachusetts Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and the State House Speaker all attended last weekís memorial mass.
The Governor, in guiding the mourners through their grief, said that "this story in particular has bothered me," and he went on to ask rhetorically,"...did she have those moments of...joy and support that is so important to kids? Did she have people who she really believed were in her corner up until that horrible, violent, tragic death?"
The House Speaker humanized Baby Doe: "...this little girl was somebody."
A reverend claimed her: "She's our little girl. This nameless one is a daughter of the Commonwealth. She belongs to us."
The problem, of course, besides the painful smacking of my hand to my forehead, is that few in our society bother to consider the horrible, violent, tragic deaths of so many non-white people with so much as an ounce of the same compassion. Few care to question (was there joy and support?) or humanize (this boy was somebody) or claim (they belong to us) any of the black and brown Americans who are being routinely otherized. I think of Aiyana Stanley Jones. I think of Tamir Rice. I think of Sam DuBose and Sandy Bland. For anyone who cares, they all had people in their corners and yet, their value falls somewhere below that of an unknown dead girl and a lion. How insulting.
This right here, along with plenty of other examples, is why "all lives matter" is a fairytale, a farce, a unicorn, a lie. All lives should matter. But all lives don't matter. If they did, then governors and other hoity-toits would be doing two-a-day memorial services, mourning equally, thoughtfully for those many particularly bothersome stories of black and brown somebodies who belong to our communities.