I can’t stop thinking about Ferguson, Missouri. Last night my dreams were full of Ferguson hashtags and anger and people protesting. As I sat in lament last week, I kept thinking about Mike Brown’s mom and grandma. You know how it is. You use your imagination to picture yourself in someone else’s circumstances and you attempt to feel what they are feeling. Empathy 101.
And that’s what I was doing. I was imagining what it would be like to see my son lying dead in the street, uncovered. I was imagining what I would feel like if Gryffin or Isaiah was shot more than six times and then left uncovered in the street for more than four hours. I was imagining what it would feel like to have complete strangers pick and choose which photos to show the world of my boy; to pick and choose which of the millions of threads that made up his life to put on display for the world to see. I could scarcely breathe just imagining it.
But you know what?
I was imagining the wrong mother. I was imagining the wrong grandmother. Don’t misunderstand. It’s good to empathize with Mike Brown’s family and friends. It’s good to imagine what it would be like to step into someone else’s skin. But if I’m really willing to step inside this narrative? If I’m really willing to see what I ought to be seeing and feel what I ought to be feeling, I shouldn’t be picturing Mike Brown’s mama.
I should be picturing myself as Darren Wilson’s mother.
Because if our country continues along its current trajectory, the likelihood that one of my boys will wind up unarmed & dead at the hands of the police is slim to none. It’s infinitely more likely that one of my boys will grow up to be the white cop holding a smoking gun. And the thought of that is equally, if not more, unbearable.
Was Darren Wilson thinking, “oh, look, a black kid… my white skin is superior to his black skin so I’m going to gun him down?” I don’t know. I highly doubt it. It’s seems more likely that he, like you and like me, like white folks and brown folks and black folks, had been socialized in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways to see black men as criminals. To see white skin as normal and safe and dark skin as dangerous, unknown and scary. I know I have been socialized to think that way. And it takes time and concerted effort to change the way that one has been socialized.
Need examples? Want to see how this socializing plays out?
- Do you know that 5x more white folks use illicit drugs than black folks? Yet there are ten times more blacks than whites sent to jail for drug use. Why would that be?
- Do you know that study after study after study has shown that “giftedness” occurs at exactly the same rate across all racial groups? Exactly the same rate. Yet White kids & Asian American kids routinely outnumber the Black & Latino kids in our schools’ gifted & talented programs. Why would that be?
- Do you know that White people have better access to and quality of healthcare than all other racial groups in our country? We win again.
- Do you know that almost half of all preschool children who are suspended more than once are black students? But black students make up less than 20% of the US preschool population. Why the discrepancy?
- Last week ALONE, 4 unarmed black men were killed by police. And from 2006-2012, a black person died at the hands of white police twice a week.
I could keep going and going and going. It’s everywhere. When will we learn? When are we going to take our heads out of the sand and take notice of what is going on all around us? When are we going to stop denying our role and start seeing our socializing? It’s time, folks. The people of Ferguson, Missouri are serving us notice and it’s time to look up.
Let’s look up and speak out together.
Do you need some ideas on where to start?
- Sign this petition.
- Read this by Austin Channing Brown.
- Then this by Roxanne Gay.
- Watch this sermon.
- Get this book from the library and spend some time with it.
Then figure out what would make sense for your current season of life and take action. Speak up. Sign petitions. Call your Senator. Fly to Ferguson. Attend a rally, a moment of silence, a march or a protest. Look for the racial disparities in your kids’ schools or your school or your workplace and take some action. Be an agent of change, an agitator for justice.
Time is up. Our notice has been served. So let’s do something before our kids grow up and start shooting.