or, Why I’m grateful my Mother taught me to read before I could remember.
I’ve slept on it, and I have to say that I AM surprised, I AM shocked. Not by continuous institutionalized racism, nor by the rage of the impoverished and the marginalized. I am surprised and shocked that when given a chance to finally make a difference, when a country is handed a moment like this that is so obviously an example of intolerance, injustice and oppression, that it has once again divided us rather than united us.
As a white man in this country, I am well aware that I exist in a bubble of privilege that has sheltered me from the worst of these injustices all my life. I have never known true poverty. I have never faced harassment and brutality due to the color of my skin.
I was raised by a racist. He was not the only parent I had, thankfully, and he was not, despite that claim, a wholly bad person.. As a small child, and then a teen and a young adult, I was subjected to the diatribe of hatred and anger, listening to the angry, narrow point of view that said that those that were different from me were lesser, were unworthy of respect, were dangerous and must be controlled or destroyed. As an adult I learned that racism as a concept is taught, that hatred supposedly breeds hatred, that blind acceptance of what you are told by your parents and your peers becomes your belief system.
That seemed ridiculous to me.
I was TOLD to hate those who looked different than me, those who had less than I was blessed with. And I rejected that idea whole-heartedly. I still reject it.
I was also taught to read, at an age so young I don’t recall it having happened. I was taught to look at stories other than my own. I was encouraged by a truly loving and wonderful parent to learn. (Thanks Mom!) I was encouraged to wonder at the power of truly great story telling and embrace the ideas beyond my own scope.
I keep coming back to one of my favorite stories of all time. In To Kill A Mockingbird, when a white jury convicts a black man of a crime he clearly didn’t commit, a saddened Jem asks his father, “How could they do it, how could they?”, to which Atticus Finch replies, “I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do – it seems only children weep.”
This morning, I awakened again to a newscast and a “feed” and a “wall” full of division, and it’s that division that still upsets me even today. I AM shocked. I AM surprised. I have to think that people who DON’T understand the violence that has been occurring since yesterday do not realize that protestors in Ferguson and elsewhere feel they no longer have a legal voice with which to speak out about injustice. The rest of us must see past our own privilege. We must realize that the people in Ferguson and elsewhere see aggressive acts of protest as their last option to have their voices heard. We cannot continue to pretend any longer that they have the same legal protections that you and I have. The system is skewed against them, and has been their entire lives. To suggest that blacks and the impoverished only know oppression “from history books” is the worst kind of abuse of privilege.
Take this opportunity to reach out to poor people, to people of color, to people you do not know, to people different from you , and ASK them about their experiences with the legal system, their experiences with police, their experiences simply trying to find equality in this country. I promise you, you will be shocked and appalled by their stories if you truly listen. You may also begin to understand their deep level of frustration and rage. If we DON’T do this, if we don’t attempt to get to know and understand people who are different than us, if we insist on looking at these events though only our own eyes and experiences instead of trying to learn about and understand other points of view, I promise you things will only get worse.
These aren’t THEIR stories. They are OUR stories.