This last month I was able to watch season 1 of the SyFy channel show “Dark Matter” on Netflix (major spoiler follows). The show follows a crew of 6 “Firefly-like” space-frontier troublemakers who were awoken from suspended animation with their memories mysteriously wiped clean. After the first few episodes feature some pretty overused science fiction tropes (even space zombies), the show gets into a pretty good groove. “Dark Matter” really wrestles with the importance of memory. Is it our memory that makes us who we are? If we forgot our pasts, could we really become different or better people? Should you still be passionate about people or things you no longer remember… but know you were once passionate about?
If I have one qualm about the first season it would be the season’s grand reveal. As the episodes progress, it becomes increasingly clear that someone is sabotaging the ship as a traitor. And the traitor ends of being… the one black guy on the crew. For a show whose name shares some close similarities to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, the reveal made me cringe a little.
I do believe that Black Lives Matter. But the movement concerns me because of one statistic. I usually don’t take much stock in statistics. As a sociology undergraduate, I remember too many teachers showing how statistics can be stretched and squeezed to prove just about anything. For example, the Washington Post reports that 990 people were killed by police in 2015. 494 were white. 258 were black.
- Someone could use this statistic to argue that many more white Americans were killed by police than black in 2015. It’s true.
- However, if you take the same numbers and adjust for overall population proportions (since there are many more white Americans in the U.S. than black), you could make the argument that black Americans were much more likely to be killed by police than white in 2015. Also true.
- But, it you take the same numbers and compare it to violent crime rates (much higher among black Americans), one could make an argument that more whites were killed in police responses to violent crime than blacks. Maybe true?
- Finally, you could connect all of this data to the poverty rate (which is unfortunately also much higher for black American households). And since there seems to be a link between poverty and crime, maybe the very challenging multi-layered problem of poverty needs to be factored into this whole debate. Possibly also true…
Statistics are tricky. But I don’t want to make any sweeping judgements using the numbers. I just wanted to focus on the number 258. 258 black Americans killed. It’s tragic. And the number scares me a little. Because this year, no matter what police do, steps they take, or training they receive, the number killed will still be too high. The white number is also too high. Any number is too high, maybe necessary, but still too high. And every year, some of the deaths caused by police will not be clear cut (maybe because of negligence, prejudice, a bad apple, or just unclear circumstances). And every year, “Black Lives Matter,” could use those numbers as ammunition to increase tension between police and citizens…. forever… That worries me.
Over the last year, I have heard over and over again that what is needed is for us all to understand “white privilege.” But I’m not so sure. As a white person, I don’t know if I need to spend more time understanding how privileged I am. I experience it every day. Maybe the last thing I need to do is spend more time focusing on myself. I think my time might be better spent listening to and learning to empathize with others. I believe empathy is an incredible gift given to us by God. And I believe it is a gift that all of us could get better at using.
Usually, when I watch a TV show, as I learn more about each of the characters, I find myself picking favorites. But I didn’t do that much while watching the first season of “Dark Matter.” Since none of the characters could remember their pasts, it was hard to grab a hold of something that would lead me to dislike any of them. I found myself blaming their bad character traits on the confusion or challenge of their situations. I found myself quicker to forgive a character’s missteps (since they were still learning how to “be”), and it was easy to forgive their past actions (since they couldn’t remember them anyway). It makes me wonder… if we all got better at letting go of the burdens of our past experiences, all those judgements and prejudices we’ve experienced or “learned” about one another, would we all get a little better at showing empathy? Is this something we could even do if we tried hard enough?
I don’t have any experience at being anxious when a cop approaches my car and I haven’t done anything wrong. That is probably because of my white privilege.
But I also don’t have any experience as a cop, being anxious while approaching a potentially dangerous car. That is because of my… I guess “blue privilege” (living in a country where police officers deal with dangerous situations so I don’t have to).
But I CAN imagine what BOTH of those situations MIGHT be like. And that is the beauty of empathy. And empathy is something I think we could all do with a little more of.