Friday, December 5, 2014

My Thoughts on Ferguson and White Privilege

I have been watching the scene unfold in Ferguson.  I was glued to various media outlets when Michael Brown was killed and again when Darren Wilson was not indicted.  I have been angry, sad, and confused.

I also feel guilty – guilty that the color of my skin has afforded me a different set of life experiences that are not the same for everyone.  Not that my life experiences are fabulous and wonderful, but I think that some things may be easier for me than people of color.

This guilty feeling has slithered itself into my consciousness before.  I was in the 3rd grade, and I had just learned about slavery.  I was horrified to discover how white people stole Africans away from their families and put them on a boat with no bathrooms.  I was in disbelief when I learned that once they arrived in America, these people were treated horribly – sold like property and made to work for abusive, rich white men.

This was too much for my eight-year-old mind; I could not understand how people could treat others so cruelly.  I felt a deep sense of shame and wished I could go back in time to rescue all of the slaves – the only solution my young mind could figure out.

Looking back, even at eight years old, I knew that my perspective and heritage were not a universal experience.  I didn’t have the language for it then, but the guilt and shame were rooted in white privilege. 

When Darren Wilson was not indicted, I felt the exact same way: ashamed.  Ashamed because the system that is supposed to be fair didn’t seem fair, because I don’t have the same fear of police brutality for my son.

Marie is the same age I was when I learned about white privilege, and I am struggling with how to approach this with her.  I am toeing the delicate line of arming her with the truth, yet not crushing her spirit. 

So I took to the Internet to help me.  I found so many informative posts out there from a variety of perspectives.

But this quote in the Rage Against the Minivan blog post written by Kristin really spoke to me:

“No one is saying that all police are racists. In fact, it's quite possible that many of the cops who have slain black boys weren't themselves racists by the general definition of the word. But they wereliving in the context of systemic racism . . . “

I feel inspired by this quote because it focuses on communication and working to understand another viewpoint.

 I want Marie and Thomas to know that it is wrong to make judgments based on skin color and not to discount someone else’s experiences because they are different from our own.

I want to help them be aware that everyone does not have the same start in life, hoping to nail it like this teacher did when shetaught her class about white privilege. 

But I also don’t want them to feel guilty or bad about who they are or the quiet, predominantly white neighborhood in which they live. I want them to feel empowered to stand up for what is right.  I want them to never to look the other way or giggle along with a racist joke or comment because it might be convenient for them. 

I want my children to be aware that it is these seemingly insignificant things that are huge and damaging:  going along with the crowd perpetuates systemic racism.

Also, I do not want them to think that every police officer abuses his/her power. I want them to be able to look at a situation and think critically about it; not just accept something because it would be less confrontational.

I feel overwhelmed by how one person can actually affect any change against something as big as systemic racism.  I can only hope that by raising children who are aware and courageous I am playing a part in its dissolution in the future. 

Erin Janda Rawlings Mommy on the Spot MLK quote

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