On the way home from our St. Paul Midway neighborhood YMCA this afternoon, my 8-year-old son and I saw a child in a car holding a sign that said “Stop Police Brutality.” I said “I wish I didn’t have to like your sign, but I do.” A woman exited the car, and said she had just come from the Governor’s Mansion, where many people are gathered to protest the murder of Philando Castile at the hands of a St. Anthony police officer at a “routine traffic stop.” I’m sure by now you know the story. It’s horrific.
As we crossed the street toward our home, my son asked, “What was that about?”
“Remember this morning when you asked what I was watching, and I said it was a woman speaking, whose boyfriend was shot and killed by the police not far from our house?”
And then I started crying and couldn’t speak. Finn was watching me in silence as we walked.
I gathered myself somewhat and haltingly explained that people are down at the Governor’s Mansion protesting because this man was killed. That he had been doing nothing wrong, and that this is an ongoing and complex problem in the United States. That many of the people killed in this way by police are black men. I told him that it makes me sad and angry, and reminded him of talks we have had about his school friends, and how different their lives may be from ours, simply because they are black. (His school is 88% students of color, and he is in the minority as a white child.)
I told him that we are going to be talking more about this over the summer, that I have a lot to learn and hopefully to teach him about race in America, and the many challenges that his friends face that he will never have to deal with.
I can’t do anything about white conservatives or the children they are raising. The American Right seems locked in a negative feedback cycle of fear and hatred. It’s up to any moderates left to clean that house, and so far, it has not even begun to happen.
There may be small things I can do about that segment of the white left, which places class at the top of their priorities out of self interest and seems to neglect racism and intersectionality. It’s implicit bias at work, and reasonable people can often be made to see how it comes into play. They truly believe that fixing class inequality will lead to the eradication of other forms of inequality. They can believe this because they are white. It’s the Star Trek approach to equity, without first contact, I assume.*
White liberals, white progressives: stop talking about tolerance. Stop being color blind. Stop saying we are all equal, and it’s what’s inside us that matters. It’s not true. “Love see no Color” is bullshit. Love has to see color; love has to acknowledge racism and institutionalized oppression or “love” cannot do anything about it.
Stop ignoring race from a misguided notion that talking about it with our kids will somehow poison their minds. The poisoning comes from our silence in the face of constant messaging they receive every day from television, the movies, video games, advertising, the news, LIFE, and the self segregation white people tend towards in our daily lives with our choices about where we live and where we send our children to school. The choice to ignore race is privilege. Our silence is privilege. And it’s killing our fellow humans.
Selected bibliography (I am gathering resources so that I can talk more with my son over the summer about social justice and the history and reality of racism in the United States. This is a start, and I welcome any suggestions parents and others out there have.):
Statement from Saint Paul Public Schools. Accessed 7/7/2016. http://www.spps.org/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=4&ModuleInstanceID=32741&ViewID=047E6BE3-6D87-4130-8424-D8E4E9ED6C2A&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=42665&PageID=1
Statement from Saint Paul Federation of Teachers. Facebook Page, pinned post accessed 7/7/2016. https://www.facebook.com/SPFT28/?fref=ts
“Colleagues, family call Philando Castile good-hearted, hard worker.” Mprnews.org. Accessed 7/7/2016. http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/07/07/who-was-philando-castile
“Philando Castile Shooting: What we know right now.” Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Accessed 7/7/2016. http://www.twincities.com/2016/07/07/falcon-heights-philando-castile-shooting-the-latest-minnesota/ accessed 7/7/2016
“Woman streams aftermath of fatal officer-involved shooting in Falcon Heights.” Star Tribune. Accessed 7/7/2016. http://www.startribune.com/aftermath-of-fatal-officer-involved-shooting-in-falcon-heights-is-captured-on-video/385861101/ Accessed 7/7/2016.
“Implicit bias means we’re all probably at least a little bit racist.” Vox.com Accessed 7/7/2016. http://www.vox.com/2014/12/26/7443979/racism-implicit-racial-bias
“Understanding Implicit Bias.” The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Accessed 7/7/2016. http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/
“Helping Courts Address Implicit Bias.” National Center for State Courts. Accessed 7/7/2016. http://www.ncsc.org/~/media/Files/PDF/Topics/Gender%20and%20Racial%20Fairness/Implicit%20Bias%20FAQs%20rev.ashx
“Deadly Force, in Black and White.” Pro Publica. Accessed 7/7/2016. https://www.propublica.org/article/deadly-force-in-black-and-white
*Counselor Deanna Troi, in “Time’s Arrow, Part II:” “Poverty was eliminated on Earth, a long time ago. And a lot of other things disappeared with it – hopelessness, despair, cruelty…” (Note: I love these episodes.)