Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson



Last night as I drove home and listened to the Grand Jury’s decision I was struck with sadness and longing.  I am sad for our country…again.  I am longing for my 14 years teaching African-American Studies in Columbia, Missouri, 120 miles from Ferguson.  I am longing for the freedom and opportunity to tackle the teachable moment.  I am longing to sit in a room of white, black, Latino and Asian students and figure out how to make sense of all this and how to do better.

I believe in a country of laws, but I am not na├»ve.  I want to believe the Grand Jury got it right, but I am already reading strange inconsistencies and contradictions.  I know it is incredibly rare for a Grand Jury not to indict.  I know it is far more common for a Grand Jury not to indict when a police officer is involved.  I know enough about power, fear and emotions to know this entire situation is more complex than we are processing yet.  

I am frustrated with our media and ourselves.  Fires and violence make for great television, but don’t come close to telling the story.  As a white man, I cannot pretend to really understand.  However, I think my study and my experience with students, their families and many, many friends tells me a few things.  The protesters are not simply angry with the Grand Jury’s decision.  When we and the media make it that simple we are ignoring context.  We are ignoring Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till.  We are ignoring Rodney King and Fred Hampton.  We are ignoring slavery and Jim Crow.  We are ignoring declining infrastructure, low wage jobs, poor school systems, unemployment, wealth stratification, and disenfranchisement.  We must put this in the big picture if we even want to begin to understand.  We must turn off Dancing with the Stars and read.  We must turn the channel away from CNN and Fox and demand some depth.  We must delve into the nuance and the context.

Are there opportunists?  Are there those who see an opportunity for a thrill, for some free oil filters and car battery?  Are there boneheads out there figuring now is a good time to get away with something?  Of course.

But I think it is safe to say there are far, far more who are sad, angry, frustrated, exhausted, losing hope, and just plain fed up but protesting peacefully.  There are far more who want to yell, but are trying to carry on some dialogue to make a positive difference.  There are far, far more who want some healing.

But that healing will not happen until we all learn to empathize.  Can you see things from another perspective?  Can you try on another’s lens?  

Stop for a moment and consider what it might be like to have to sit with your son and teach him how to act when stopped by the police in order to save his own life.  

Stop and consider what it might be like to be confronted with a system that seems to be rigged against you from birth.  

Stop and consider what it might be like to be a 14 year old boy and learn about the murder of Emmett Till.  What if you saw that story repeated a few dozen times in your life? 

Stop and consider.  Think.  Empathize.

Put all of this in the context of the history of St. Louis’ northern suburbs.  Put this in the context of St. Louis’ and Missouri’s history.  Put this in the context of American history.  

It is no more true that all black teenage boys are thugs than it is that all cops are racist killers so let’s get past the hyperbole and ridiculousness and talk and listen to each other.

We need to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of listening deeply.  We have a world that needs some changing and it is up to us.

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