Tuesday, June 16, 2020

On Randy Orton, Black Lives Matter, and Listening

Orton listened. You should too.
Photo Credit: WWE.com
When the police murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis, it was the straw that broke a camel's back that had been taking them on since the last time it suffered the same injury in 2015. History has a way of repeating itself when measures aren't taken to remediate those problems. Michael Brown and Freddie Gray gave rise to scores of other victims of police brutality, most of them Black, a pile of bodies murdered for no other reason than to let an entire race within any class lower than "fuck you money" in America know that their lives could be forfeit if a police officer has a bad day. The lynching of Ahmaud Aubery in broad daylight dovetailing into the murder of a sleeping Breonna Taylor off a no-knock warrant at the wrong house to Floyd's murder caught with graphic and lurid detail on camera set the American public off in greater fury than when the words Black Lives Matter were uttered the first time as a rallying cry five years ago. Aubery's murder was the only one not sanctioned by the police, but the fact that he was murdered in February and police didn't arrest the perpetrators until May and only after national outcry is almost as egregious a lapse in the supposed social contract between police and civilian as the wanton murders.

While the fervor nationally after Brown's and Gray's murders in 2015 was hot, it feels like the current climate has produced a much more passionate outcry from more people in the spotlight. Some of those folks aren't surprising, but this round of righteous protest against police brutality has brought out some shocking names speaking eloquently on behalf of Black Americans, the most shocking among them being Randy Orton. He took to Twitter the night after protests started to proclaim Black Lives Matter and that all lives couldn't matter until Black lives did. It took me aback fiercely as Orton's social cues have always been far right of the Y-axis on a political compass chart. While his words were shocking, they were appreciated. He didn't waver, he didn't make some wishy-washy bullshit statement, and he didn't go on a Seth Abramson/Gwen Snyder-like thread where he would've easily lost the plot. For someone with the reputation he has, his response was perfect, or maybe it seemed perfect because noted bullshit peddlers in wrestling or otherwise never so concisely or emphatically come out on the side of good in these situations.

I more than anyone understand the hesitation to rush to throw laurels at Orton's feet, because he's only doing what he should be doing at minimum, and White allies shouldn't be centered in these kinds of struggles. That being said, the White voice can be a powerful weapon, a crowbar that can open doors that Black voices can't because of racist tendencies not to listen. Listening, it seems, is the one thing that can break down doors and put hammers through walls. It's how Orton came to have this change of heart, as he explained to Brent Brookhouse of CBS News in an interview. IN 2016, Orton made headlines by downplaying Colin Kaepernick's protests as playing the race card. But as it turns out, having more and more Black colleagues in the locker room gave him new perspective, not because of osmosis or magic, but because he heard what they were saying:
It took me a little time, but what I had to do was realize, Kaepernick, he wasn't shitting on the flag. He wasn't disrespecting the people that have given their lives for our freedom. He was taking a stand against police brutality. As a white guy, I don't see it. But then I started listening to my black brothers and sisters, especially the ones I've known for years and some for more than a decade. I was hearing first-hand accounts of interactions with cops that took advantage of the situation and the power they had because they maybe felt a certain way about the color of someone's skin. That's when the lightbulb went off.

I'm embarrassed to say it, but it took me a little while but I get it. What I said on Twitter, I stand behind. If anyone doesn't agree with me, I think they need to do more digging. Go look at Big E's Twitter from a week ago, go look at Xavier Woods' Twitter, go look at things Kofi said, that Mark Henry said, that Shelton said, that R-Truth said. If you read what they're saying and try to put yourself in their shoes for even just a minute, you're going to see right now that it's not fair. All lives do matter, but like I said on Twitter, until black lives matter, all lives can't matter. My only regret is that it took me a little bit and some soul searching to see that.
It's true you shouldn't have to spend time with a human being to see their humanity, but the undeniable truth in America, in any location on the globe, is that a lot of times, children grow up in sheltered environments, where they only see other kids and adults who look like them. The people in power structures in those communities may have ulterior motives in wanting to keep diversity to a minimum, and thus they peddle grotesque stereotypes of interlopers to their community, and it's how a White person who grew up in suburbs can come to believe racist myths about Black people when they've never had a Black classmate, a Black teacher, or a Black neighbor. If it takes being in a locker room with a bunch of Black people, or having children of "illegal1" immigrants working in the cubicles adjacent to yours, or growing up with a gay uncle to see firsthand the value in their humanity, it's not a bad thing.

The key is listening to people talk about their own learned experiences. Listening. It's an art that a lot of people, myself included, have trouble doing from time to time. Orton seemed like he was too far gone to consider changing until he changed, and he credits it to forgetting dogma and lending an ear to peers he's grown to respect. If he can do it, anyone can. Blessed be those who can change without seeing, but why would you not want to befriend as many people of different backgrounds as possible? Variety is the spice of life anyway.

Right now, that variety is under constant threat from a mostly White ruling class that sees anyone looking to claw ahead to get some money for themselves as a threat. The police motto says they "protect and serve," but what they protect and whom they serve is drastically different than what the uninitiated think or what television has told its audience. In order for things to change, White people need to follow Orton's example, to listen to not just Black people, but all marginalized peoples, and take their struggles seriously. Real change doesn't come from politicians in ivory towers. It comes from direct action. The changes in laws and policy since the justified and collective anger over Floyd's murder all came from those protests and crowds shaking the tree, burning down police precincts, agitating their oppressors. Keep it going, and for White people like myself, the best way to keep it going is to listen, understand, and support.