I was listening to a true-crime podcast today and it was discussing the reluctance that the police had in investigating the deaths of minority groups such as black people, queer people, and prostitutes. The host said that as far as the police were concerned these people were "less dead" meaning that their lives weren't as valuable as the straight, white, victims of crimes that the police typically put their effort into investigating. It was a disgusting bias brought on by racism, homophobia, and sexism.
the less dead.
When I learned that this happened I was shocked at first. Then, as I thought about it, I became less surprised because I think we all do this to a much lesser degree. We hear a news story about death from a town over and we just keep scrolling or change the channel. But, if you hear about someone we know being killed - it's suddenly meaningful and important. They feel more dead than the stranger.
A few years ago, I was browsing through videos online and I stumbled across a video where a bus driver, an older woman, was being picked on by the children aboard. They shouted names at her and they hit her. They tried to hurt her.
Watching that video I felt my heart hammering in my chest, my face felt hot, and my eyes burned hot with tears. I felt like I was watching my own grandmother and that tore something inside of me and out of that poured an intense hatred that cascaded across my body. Only a few things in my life have ever made me that angry.
Thinking about it now, I wonder why that video impacted me so much? It's not like I had never seen a tough video - honestly, I had seen much, much, worse. Yet,, this shook me.
I want to be naive and say that I care about everyone the same amount but, I don't know, that just feels like I'm lying to myself and to you, right? Every day I drive past homeless people on the street and I don't stop - I don't even think about it. I just pretend not to see them as they walk to my window. They hold out their hands, or a hat, or a torn shirt and I pretend not to see them. Sometimes, I'll give them some money. I don't know if I do this out of love or out of guilt. I don't know if I could pick most of them out of a lineup.
Maggie Nelson, in her book Bluets, riffs on the color blue and her love and fascination with it. When asked why the color blue she responds:
"We don't get to choose what or whom we love, I want to say. We just don't get to choose."
I think that's very true.
We're not sitting around with a calculator on hand so that every time we hear the news we can calculate the exact amount of sad we should be. We don't actively try and create distance between myself and others. We don't get to choose. We just love people in the amounts that we love them.