As someone who grew up in a homogeneous racial environment (my hometown was 95% white), I can’t say as I’ve ever been immersed in the racial tensions that have exploded in so many parts of this country; only most recently in Ferguson, MO. And yet, I look at the — let’s call it by its name — terrorism being done by police in Ferguson, and I see the echoes of our history and the challenges of our past that were never met.
I wasn’t raised to be “color blind”, a term I find offensive as it is something only those in power could use to excuse their ignorance of the past. I was raised to see the differences between us as strength; to see the different experiences as equally valid; to see my sisters and brothers as just that. All equally valid; all equally imbued by their creator with the same unassailable rights. Different, but equal. The world is not monochrome. It is not black and white. The world is a place of infinite variation, and those variations give us strength.
So, watching the tragedy unfold in Ferguson, all I can think is “not again”. Have we never learned? Have we never understood? Have we never progressed as a species past some simplistic lizard-brain reaction to people who are different from us? Whose experiences are different, yet equally valid? It doesn’t matter if they’re white, black, Latino, Japanese, male, female, transgender, hetero or homosexual, or somewhere in between. It does not matter.
They are human. We are human.
As people escalate their complete character assassination of a child, in some hope of granting themselves some forgiveness for the actual assassination of that child, I weep. I weep for those that have died, and those that live on the edge.
I had a conversation last year with a good friend. He had just had The Talk with his son. I inquired. In my world, those ominous words are attached to the awkward conversation about sexuality. For him, though, The Talk was about how to deal with the police: be submissive, be deferential, don’t disagree, don’t question, keep your hands on the steering wheel. Or else. Or else you become just another dead black kid. I never had that conversation with my parents, and as a teen, on the occasion of being pulled over, I was treated politely, given a warning, and told to have a good evening. How much of that was the era, and how much was my pale skin?
The conversation wandered more, and at one point he asked why I never worried about wandering DC’s less upscale neighborhoods at night. The answer came quickly, and its words were painful yet true.
"Because", I said. "Because I know that if something were to happen to me, the police would investigate. The news would cover it as a tragedy." He looked at me. "And everyone else knows that too. That is white privilege."